Nov 19, 2010

NACAC and the USNWR ‘Best Colleges’

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Ad Hoc Committee on U.S. News & World Report Rankings recently released the first in a series of three reports on NACAC member attitudes toward the USNWR publication, “America’s Best Colleges.” The findings are part of a larger discussion concerning the “role and influence” of rankings in the college admissions process.

Last May, NACAC member colleges, counselors, and organizations were asked to respond to a series of questions related to the content, methodology, and overall usefulness of the USNWR rankings. Slightly over 44 percent of the respondents represented colleges or universities, and nearly 49 percent were from counselors (in-school as well as independent).

Not surprisingly, “NACAC members expressed a significant degree of skepticism and dislike of the US News & World Report rankings.” But a deeper probe into the findings suggests an important divide between colleges and counselors relative to the overall usefulness of the rankings.

It appears that the majority of those in college admissions thought that rankings are “a helpful resource for students and families interested in college information.” Most counselors, however, felt just the opposite.

Both parties agree that “US News rankings are useful to college and university recruiting efforts.” But both also agree that rankings “cause counterproductive behavior at colleges and universities.” In other words, the rankings may be blamed for bad behavior among colleges attempting to ‘game’ the system by manipulating data they submit for analysis by USNWR.

Despite fundamental differences over the perceived value of the rankings, virtually everyone agreed that US News & World Report adds very little to the objective evaluation of colleges. An overwhelming 89.1 percent of all respondents agreed or somewhat agreed that the USNWR rankings offer misleading conclusions about institutional quality.

So what does this mean? It means that for colleges interested in using institutional comparisons to generate glossy marketing materials, rankings are a good thing. For counselors seeking to help students discover colleges that represent a good ‘fit,’ rankings are a distraction and source of confusion.

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