28 August 2017
The US News rankings, America’s Best Colleges, has had a dominant role in admissions to US colleges and universities for many years. It has, however, come under severe criticism from academics and the media.
The Chicago Tribune, for example, has published an article by two Northwestern University professors, Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, that discusses the rankings and how they could be manipulated.
The authors note that the newspaper frequently sanctions universities for submitting incorrect or inaccurate data but suggests that there are still several ways in which misleading data might be collected and submitted.
These include inflating the number of applications for admissions which will result in a lower admission rate and make colleges appear to be more selective, manipulating test scores by not counting international students, athletes, development cases or delayed admissions. Some colleges are now “test optional”, meaning that students are not required to submit their scores for standardised tests such as the SAT or ACT, with the result that students with low scores are not counted when calculating a college’s average score.
The authors then draw attention to the reputational rankings based on the votes of university administrators explaining that they could use survey responses to reward friends and punish enemies. In addition, colleges might be able to manipulate graduation rates or the number of alumni sending gifts of money, both of which are indicators in the rankings.