It's human nature: If we have a list, we want to rank it. US News and World Report took full advantage of that tendency when it first published its college rankings in the 1980s. While its goal might have been somewhat laudable at the time (to encourage students to consider colleges beyond their local area), the publication wasn't content with an alphabetical list. It had to rate one college against another. And that is where the trouble started.
Below are three of the grounds on which professional counselors tend to object to the US News rankings.
1. The rankings primarily reflect how rich the college is.
Financial Resources per student and Faculty Resources (class size, faculty salary, student:faculty ratio) make up nearly a third of each college's score. Those measures may or may not improve the student's educational experience, but you certainly don't need hype to tell you which colleges have the largest endowment per student. The top colleges most years: Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Pomona, Amherst, Swarthmore, MIT. Go no further than that one factor and you will pretty much reproduce the US News "rankings."
2. The rankings say more about inputs than outputs.
Student selectivity -- that is, test scores, class rank and the acceptance rate -- makes up 12.5 percent of a college's score. Many colleges hedge their bets by admitting students they essentially know will succeed. Does this say more about the quality of the education provided by the college or about the characteristics of the students accepted in the first place?
3. US News is attempting to rank the ineffable.
If US News tried to rank churches, would the local Episcopal parish place higher or lower than the Evangelical megachurch in the next suburb over? Many attributes of educational institutions are similarly impossible to rank. No ranking could encompass the intellectual climate on campus, the openness to creativity or competition, the level of faculty commitment to student success, or so many of the other factors that make one college "better" than another for a given student.
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