Dec 12, 2012

'U.S. News' adds Insult to Injury

Stevens Institute of Technology

It’s bad enough that colleges are forced to endure arbitrary ranking systems designed to sell magazines to a public anxious to bring order—any order—to the college admissions process.  And evidently the embarrassment of presiding over a demonstrably flawed system of data collection is not enough to keep the folks at U.S. News quiet.

Last week, Bob Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report, introduced two new rankings destined to humiliate a few colleges and draw additional attention to the silliness of his entire house of cards. 

Based on what we know to be data that has more than a few problems, Mr. Morse revealed a “first-ever” analysis of colleges in the National Universities ranking category that are overperforming or underperforming their undergraduate academic reputations.

In other words, using academic reputation data gathered from notoriously worthless “peer” rankings, Morse has devised a devilish method of assessing whether a college is performing better than its academic reputation or not doing as well as other higher education professionals seem to think.

And keep in mind, the peer rankings have been a source of controversy over the years, as college administrators openly admit they have no way of knowing or assessing the academics of every baccalaureate-granting institution in the country.

"U.S. News knows that peer assessments are subjective, but a school's reputation for academic quality is important to prospective students," Morse wrote in a blog post for the company's website.

Not surprisingly, administrators filling out survey forms are sometimes a little biased in their assessments. A few years ago, Inside Higher Ed revealed that officials at Clemson University rated “all programs other than Clemson below average” to make the university look better.  Take that Harvard!

But these problems didn’t stop U.S. News from turning bad data into yet another ranking published on its website and picked up by publications across the country with headlines and accompanying photos proclaiming the “most overrated colleges.”

Although this is definitely not a list to be on, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, and UMBC were among those determined to be underperformers.  Perhaps it’s worth noting that GMU and UMBC have been at the top of the U.S. News list of “Up-and-Coming Schools” for last five years. Virginia Commonwealth also debuted on the same list this year.

There’s definitely something wrong with this picture.

But in the interest of bringing attention to some lesser-known colleges that seem to be doing something right by scoring well on more objective academic indicators, such as selectivity, financial and faculty resources, alumni giving, and graduation and retention rates, here are 15 “overperforming” colleges as rated by U.S. News (in alphabetical order):
  • Adelphi University, NY
  • Andrews University, MI
  • Ashland University, OH
  • Azusa Pacific University, CA
  • Biola University, CA
  • Edgewood College, WI
  • Maryville University of St. Louis, MO
  • South Carolina State University
  • St. John Fisher College, NY
  • St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
  • Stevens Institute of Technology, NJ
  • University of La Verne, CA
  • University of St. Thomas, MN
  • University of Tulsa, OK
  • Yeshiva University, NY

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