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Do College Reputations Drive Rankings or Is it the Other Way Around?

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Do College Reputations Drive Rankings or Is it the Other Way Around?

There’s no doubt that some students are unduly influenced by college rankings published by national magazines, regardless of the criteria used to come up with the lists. But new research suggests that faculty can also be heavily influenced by rankings, even when it comes to opinions on academic offerings in their own field. Nicholas A. Bowman, a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, and Michael N. Bastedo, an associate professor of education at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, examined the effects of The Times World University Rankings after they were introduced in 2004. The first year, faculty members and administrators were asked to list up to 30 universities around the world that they considered leaders in their areas of study – science, technology, social science, medicine and arts and the humanities. In analyzing responses in subsequent years, the researchers found that the widely publicized rankings helped form a consensus about the perceived prestige of certain universities. In other words, institutions that fared well in the first year did significantly better in the second year as well.  Based on their findings, Bastedo and Bowman conclude that  “clearly, rankings drive reputation, and not the other way around,” with the reputations of institutions appearing to change “in concert with the introduction and widespread use of a particular rankings system.” This is not the first time research on college rankings has led to this type of conclusion. In a paper published in February in the American Journal of Education, the same researchers examined the U.S. News & World Report rankings and similarly concluded that colleges’ reputations are influenced by rankings.  Read more about the faculty study in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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