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02 Nov College Rankings and US News and World Report

The current college ranking systems provide an easy way for prospective students to see how one institution ranks against another. This can make for a simple way to see which colleges will provide the best education. At least that is what the ranking system is supposed to do, in recent years though there has been some criticism regarding the methodologies used to rank colleges.

What are Admissions Rankings

Before we talk about what is good about the current system and what is not, it is important to understand how colleges are currently ranked in the United States. It is also important to know that there is more than one ranking system available.

The methodology that most of us are familiar with is the ratings that are given by the US News. This system has been around since 1983, and each year the ratings for colleges change. The US News ranks scores each institution with a score between 1 and 100, with 100 being the best, and they separate the schools into 4 tiers. The best schools are listed as tier 1.

The ratings are based on gathered data that take into account the following factors:

• Peer Assessment – Reputation of the school based on a survey of presidents, provosts, and deans from other institutions

• Retention – The graduation rate over a 6-year period, and the retention rate of first year students

• Student Selectivity – A combination of data based on: test scores of students, the percentage of top percentile students admitted, and the student acceptance rate as a whole.

• Faculty Resources – Data that includes the student-faculty ratio, the average salary of faculty members, and the education level of the faculty

• Financial Resources – Average tuition rates per-student

• Graduation Rate Performance – The difference between what the expected rate of graduation was and what the actual graduation rate turned out to be

• Alumni Giving Rate – The amount of money received from donations by alumni

The first four elements on the list account for 80% of the total score. Peer assessment alone makes 25% of the rating, and that is where the criticism of the US News ranking system comes in.

The Good and the Bad

In recent years there has been some criticism of the current rating system. It has been said that with the weighting given to peer assessment, student selectivity, and faculty resources that it becomes easy to pick which schools will come out on top. The largest schools and the richest schools will win out over the smaller colleges every time, regardless of the actual education that a student can expect to receive from the institution.

Looking at the historical data, these statements are true to a certain degree. Schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton always end up on top of the list. Some suggest that, to get a true measure of school performance, the ratings should give a larger weighting to factors related to graduation rates, salaries after graduation, and student performance in the long run.

Even with the criticisms, the current college ranking system does provide a method for students to see how their chosen (or prospective) institution ranks against similar colleges in the country. It provides a simple method to see where they can expect a top-rated education, and where they will be getting a second tier education.

With other ranking systems popping up each year it is also possible to use the US News rankings in conjunction with a different rating system. It may be worth comparing the rankings in America to those of the Academic Rankings of World Universities, or data based on the G-Factor methodology (such as Webometrics). Using more than one ranking system will provide a better overall picture when looking at any college.

It is likely that prospective students should still talk to an admissions consultant, or a college counselor, before making their final decisions. But, with the US News and their admissions rankings, those students do have a simple place to start when looking for the best schools in the country.

Ross Blankenship

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