US News & World Report published its annual college rankings this week, and there were few surprises as Ivy League schools took leading spots and other well-known universities rounded out the top 25. Aside from some slight adjustments, the top rankings were generally unchanged from previous years. This in spite of the fact that the magazine made changes in its methodology this year in response to scholarly research that called some of its techniques into question.

The changes, which involved the “reputational” part of the survey, did little to quiet critics who immediately weighed in on blogs and websites. In a news roundup, The Huffington Post quoted CBS MoneyWatch’s Lynn O’Shaughnessy as saying a coin flip might do the job just as well in determining the top spot. “The magazine would save itself a lot of trouble if it just flipped a coin every year to determine who was No. 1 since there are only two contenders. Or perhaps the magazine could find a three-headed coin so Yale would also get a chance in the college rankings sweepstakes.”

Meanwhile Lloyd Thacker, founder of the Education Conservancy and a leading critic of rankings, told Inside Higher Education that he was not impressed by the changes because the rankings continued to give a false sense of some colleges being better than others and ignore the need to focus on student needs as opposed to prestige. “The rankings are not rooted in education. They are trying to sell magazines. Is this going to be any more educationally credible? I don’t see that.”

Perhaps it’s appropriate for the last word to go to the magazine itself, which explained its ranking on the Today Show, and on its website. “Why does U.S. News rank colleges and universities? It’s a controversial question with a simple answer: We do it to help you make one of the most important decisions of your life. Your investment in a college education could profoundly affect your career opportunities, financial well-being, and quality of life.” The magazine also posted tips on how the rankings are best used.

  • Do use the rankings as one tool to select and compare schools.
  • Don’t rely solely on rankings to choose a college.
  • Do use the search and sort capabilities of this site to learn more about schools. Visit schools, if possible.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. College matters. Take your time, and choose carefully.
  • Do think long and hard about the right place for you.

Good advice, no doubt.