Jeff Brenzel

Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of admissions at Yale, says colleges are missing the point to simply criticize U.S. News for its college rankings. They do satisfy the raging public demand for information and clarity in a process that is very complicated and time-consuming for most families. “We seriously misstate the challenge by pointing a finger at U.S. News as a cause of the problem,” he said. U.S. News fills their niche for three reasons: a consumer society that’s trained us to rely on rankings; the high stakes and information overload of the college-search process; and U.S. News has done a very good job building, promoting and guarding their niche.

But why are rankings bad, Brenzel asked? He listed several reasons: rankings are often based on things that are irrelevant to the actual educational experience a student receives; they allow students to avoid the hard work that should go into choosing a college that’s best for oneself; they cause students to assign their own self-worth to the ranking of the college they attend; and there are many excellent colleges that offer certain things that a student might be seeking.

Brenzel is part of a group seeking to offer an alternative system. It should have four elements: access to wide variety of data; students decide for themselves what factors to weigh based on what’s most important to them; it must contain tools to help guidance counselors help students decide the best college for them; and it should have user generated data (students rate what was most important in choosing their college and then rate their experience once in college.)