The reasons are difficult to discern with certainty, but here are some likely explanations:
- According to Robert Morse, who leads the rankings project at US News, it might be survey fatigue: colleges are tired of filling out forms for all the various publications who are now entering the ratings game.
- Morse says it might also be competing priorities on campuses: they are busy dealing with enrollment and financial aid matters and other affairs, and too busy to fill out the questionnaires for US News. (This is specious: most campuses have “institutional research” departments who must complete federal reports all the time–and much of the data upon which these rankings rest is publicly available from the US Department of Education).
- Protest against the rankings, lied primarily by the Education Conservancy, are also likely explanations, though Robert Morse was reluctant to talk about these possible factors. The fact is that many liberal arts institutions feel that the ratings are skewed against them. And many presidents of small, liberal arts colleges have pledged not to cooperate with US News in their annual rankings.
The aspect of the US News survey that was most often not completed was the “reputational” survey, in which college presidents are asked to rate the reputations of their peer institutions. This sort of ranking is highly subjective, and many college presidents know it. So many did not fill it out.
The fact is that the US News & World Report rankings are very influential in very many ways. They make a difference in how colleges report data. They make a difference in how colleges market themselves. They make a difference in the minds of many college counselors: in a survey of college counselors, the best colleges in America are (wait for it) the Ivy League schools (shock!).
But the rankings should not affect the decision on which college is best for a particular student. Choosing a college is a highly personal decision, and should be based on factors related to the educational success of that student. The rankings are a blunt instrument. They entertain. They sell magazines. But they don’t really help me much in recommending which colleges might be best for you.
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