The website Business Insider has recently published an article by Walt Hickey that is critical of the America’s Best Colleges rankings published by US News.
The article argues that these rankings, first published in the 1980s, put too much emphasis on the test scores of incoming students, which was a bogus measure of quality that merely encouraged the development of a lucrative test prep industry. There are other negative consequences of the rankings such as manipulating class sizes and unnecessary increases in faculty salaries with the objective of gaining a few extra points in the rankings.
The current pandemic has added to these negative effects by preventing colleges from allowing students to defer admission or to transfer out because that would reduce their completion rates, another indicator in these rankings.
These comments were countered by Robert Morse, Chief Data Strategist at US News, who noted that SAT/ACT scores are only 5% of the ranking- they aren’t a key factor anymore. Morse also noted there was an indicator that counted the enrolment of low-income students and that graduation rates were a vital piece of information for students, parents and other stakeholders. Morse admits that manipulation of class size has been proven to be true in a small number of cases out of proportion to the number that are rank. He thinks vast proportion of schools care about data integrity and are honest in their data reporting to US NEWS.
The article did report that there have been some improvements to the rankings such as eliminating the acceptance rate indicator.
In conclusion, the article admits that developing a fair and effective college ranking is extremely difficult and refers to failure of the Obama administration’s attempt at a rating system. Meanwhile, the US News has continued to expand its rankings to medical schools, hospitals, high schools and, unmentioned in the article, global universities.