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.