Are US News college rankings just “False Prestige”?

Since 1983, US News has put together a list of the top colleges.  While others have put together college rankings, US News has become the most well known.  When the college rankings are posted, the hits on the US News website skyrocket to well over 10 million.  Robert Morse, the architect of the rankings, has crafted the now familiar methodology, but this year he has tweaked the methodology to give more weight to the opinions of high school counselors as well as graduation & retention rates.  This has shifted schools around a bit, and lowered the rankings of schools like MIT and Cal Tech (who have relatively low retention/graduation rates).  It also helped Harvard reach the top spot this year.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled about the rankings system.  It is easy to imagine that those not ranked highly wouldn’t be happy with the system, but even Adam Falk, President of top-ranked liberal arts college Williams, said the rankings generate a “false prestige”.  Maybe it is no more than bragging rights, but the rankings certainly have an audience. 

This audience includes perspective students and the colleges themselves.  Are students more likely to apply to Harvard now they moved to the top spot? Maybe.  Are students now less likey to apply to MIT or Cal Tech becasue they dropped a little?  Maybe, but probably not.  Are MIT, Cal Tech and a few other schools going to take a fresh look at how to possibly improve their graduation rates?  You bet they are.

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8 Responses to Are US News college rankings just “False Prestige”?

  1. AGR says:

    Who cares? I am going to go where I want to. I can be just as successful at Big State U. And according to one of the posts here on the WSJ article, recruiters might like me more.

  2. fr45 says:

    I am probably going to apply to the top 3-5 schools on the list because they are the top 3-5 schools on the list. I don’t see any problem with this. US News knows what they are doing, and the criteria seems reasonable to me. Besides, employers and grad schools are going to be looking at the same rankings when they make their selection decisions.

  3. College Bound! says:

    Admissions is big business…colleges are selling applications for $50, $100 or more…let’s say a school gets 20,000 application x $100, that is $2 million, and if the college rankings help them get more applicants, why wouldn’t they be happy?

  4. jb23 says:

    Adam Falk has it right, and I don’t think he is the first university president from a highly ranked school to voice some displeasure with the college rankings.

  5. Leah says:

    Because the top 50 ranked schools remain fairly consistent year over year most students who enroll in those schools have more than likely already decided where to go and aren’t necessarily swayed to go to the school that ranked #3 vs. #4 because they picked up a copy of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings guide. I agree with admin when he/she says “maybe it is no more than bragging rights”. I don’t think the rankings should be used as a way to measure your academic talents but rather as a place to go to get consolidated information about multiple schools and multiple programs.

    Today, there are so many different degrees offered through many different types of schools. Some schools may have three specific programs that “rank” high but the school overall may have a “low” rank. I think rankings are important but tiered rankings are a better measurement than # 1 – 200.

  6. AndersJ says:

    The rankings sound like a bunch of bologna to me. You can get just as good of an education at a “lesser ranked” school as you could at one of these “top-ranked schools”, and you would probably save yourself about $100,000 or $200,000 or so by doing it. Students paying these prices may need to enroll in an economics class.

  7. jpaul says:

    “False prestige” seems a little harsh.

    The top 25 schools on the list are pretty solid. I wouldn’t necessarily say apply to school just based on the list (but I know some who might), but it is a decent place to start.

  8. Kevin says:

    I am a little torn about the rankings. If I got into or was going to the number one school, I would probably be bragging about it too. But it is pretty hard if not impossible to reliably rank the schools in some precise order.

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