Colleges criticize rankings

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April 23, 2007

12:05 AM

The U.S. News & World Report college rankings may soon be officially boycotted by colleges and universities across the nation, according to an April 12 article in The Christian Science Monitor.

p. The article states that many schools refused to fill out the surveys used to calculate rankings, and “efforts are now afoot for a collective boycott. The ‘reputational survey,’ as it’s called, asks college administrators to rank the quality of hundreds of schools on a one to five scale,” which counts for 25 percent of the rankings.

p. “[Our] methodology has been refined over 20-plus years in our efforts to find the best way to assess the quality of education each university has to offer,” a U.S. News & World Report spokesman said.

p. The article cites an op-ed written by Michele Tolela Myers, President of Sarah Lawrence College, for The Washington Post. Two years ago, she decided to eliminate SAT scores from the admissions process, and discontinue providing said information to U.S. News.

p. Myers claims that U.S. News told her that “the magazine will calculate the college’s ranking by assuming an arbitrary average SAT score of one standard deviation (approximately 200 points) below the average score of our peer group.”

p. According to The Christian Science Monitor article, U.S. News executive editor Brian Kelly, has stated that this was a miscommunication and the magazine will not use this method.
An admissions officer at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md. said that St. John’s has asked to not be included in the rankings at all. St. John’s was formerly ranked anywhere from the third tier to the top 25 schools before pulling out.

p. Lloyd Thacker, executive director of The Education Conservancy in Portland, Ore. a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the college admissions process, came up with the idea of an official boycott and is orchestrating the campaign.

p. Thacker and a group of college presidents wrote a letter sent to college presidents asking them to not fill out the survey as well as to refrain from using the U.S. News rankings in promotional materials. So far, eight presidents have agreed to endorse the letter.

p. “The rankings do a great disservice to education by overestimating the prestige of a college,” Thacker said. “The past 20 years have witnessed the commercialization of [admissions].”
The rankings, according to U.S. News, will not suffer in breadth or legitimacy with the decrease in participation.

p. “If a handful of colleges … decide not to complete the peer survey, it won’t affect the rankings’ statistical significance,” the U.S. News spokesman said.

p. Thacker believes that the four major components of the U.S. News rankings (average SAT scores, the reputation of the school, the selectivity of the school and the amount of alumni giving) are calculated disproportionately.

p. When asked about how influential these rankings can be, the spokesman for U.S. News stated that “clearly there is a demand, even a hunger for this information.”

p. Henry Broaddus, Dean of Admission at the College, stated that the College will not be participating in the boycott, but is aware of the limitations of the rankings.

p. “The most important single criterion in the U.S. News methodology is the so-called institutional reputation survey completed by presidents, provosts and deans of admission. We don’t know and can’t know enough about other institutions to grade them with credible authority … [the rankings are] not accurate with respect to any purported ability to make hairline distinctions between colleges and universities.”

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