Wake Forest University

Debate Continues Over College Rankings

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Debate Continues Over College Rankings

It seems like every few months, U.S. News & World Report makes news for the methodology it uses in its annual ranking of best colleges. We last wrote about the controversy in our blog back in August.  

This time, it’s the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) that is reporting the majority of admissions professional surveyed  believe the rankings are based on flawed methodology. Furthermore, 87 percent agree or somewhat agree that the rankings encourage “counterproductive behavior” among colleges.  The admissions professionals also believe the title of “best colleges” is inaccurate and confuses students and parents.

 However, respondents are not ready to admit that they play any part in “gaming” the rankings. “Respondents’ beliefs that institutions are ‘gaming’ the rankings generally seems to apply to other colleges whereas they are less likely to perceive their own institution as manipulating the process,” the NACAC report says.

Interestingly, a majority of admissions officers surveyed also say they tout their college ranking in marketing campaigns even if only in a “limited fashion.”  Furthermore, more than 90 percent admit that the rankings encourage competitive strategies for improving their standing.

Clearly, feelings about the much-publicized rankings remain mixed. Concludes Robert J. Morse, director of data research for U.S. News: “Colleges are saying ‘We don’t like the rankings, but we’re going to use them as a means to validate our quality and to attract students.”

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education , David A. Hawkins, NACAC’s director of public policy and research, said he hopes the survey findings will bring more clarity to the debate, even if they don’t prompt changes to the methodology. “If they’re receptive, that would be great,” he says, “but I don’t know that I’m holding my breath.”

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