U.S.News and World Report just came out with its 2018 college rankings. They have been sifting and sorting colleges for years. Does anyone really know what criteria they use to rate one school better than the others? And why do the same schools always come out on top? And what about the schools that suddenly show up on the list? What have they done differently?
Here is what U.S. News says it uses:
Undergraduate reputation 22.5%
Graduation/ retention rate. 22.5%
Faculty resources. 20%
Student selectivity. 12.5%
Financial resources. 10%
Graduation rate performance. 7.5%
Alumni giving 5%
Setting aside the fact that comparing schools with vastly different resources, mission, and student populations is like comparing apples to oranges, let’s look more closely at their criteria.
Undergraduate academic reputation
According to U.S.News, the academic peer assessment allows presidents, provosts and deans, as well as counselors at the top high schools, to rate schools. This means that the highest weight is given to those people rating their rival institutions. Just how impartial can you expect this to be? And guidance counselors know only those schools most of their students will be attending. How can they rate a school they have never seen or investigated?
U.S.News uses three components for this: SAT Math & Reading/ ACT composite scores make up 65% of the selectivity rating. The number of entering freshman in the top 10% of their class for national colleges and universities and those in the top 25% entering regional colleges and universities is also used.
Using test scores to determine student ability has been debated and discounted for years, so much so that the SAT has reinvented itself several times in recent years. Leaning so much on test scores to rate institutions ignores such factors as test anxiety, and wealth advantage for test coaching. It also ignores those schools who choose to be test optional. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found only “ trivial” differences among graduation rates and GPA averages between those who sent scores and those who don’t.
Ten percent of the selectivity score is freshman acceptance rate. This is a dubious piece of data at best. Students are applying to many more schools than ever before. Many apply to schools to which they have little or no chance of admission. With admission rates for the “top” schools at under 10%, this only confirms the increase in applications and nothing else.
This is largely a function of the school’s wealth and when couples with the Alumni giving criteria, it obviously benefits schools with fewer poor students. Does having fewer poor or middle class students really improve the academic quality of a college or university?
This is just a sampling of how one should view the college ranking system. If you put in skewed or junk data, that’s what you get out. The object of the college search should be to find the school that is best for your child, or you and not necessarily the “best” school.
Taken from Washington Post article by Valerie Straus