Critics grow around popular annual college rankings

The company released its 2022-23 slates on Monday.

The demand for information is evident, as higher education – once affordable and accessible – has become increasingly competitive and expensive.

In the four decades since the launch of the US News Ranking in 1983, the college cost swelled more than five times for those attending four-year private institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduate student has about $30,000 in debt over the past decade, which is more than half of their average starting salary.

Bob Morse, the chief data strategist who developed most of the ranking methodology, said US News strives to be “the objective, preeminent resource to help high school students and their families make most informed decisions about where to go to college”.

“We know that students and their families find value in our rankings. We strive to provide them with data and information to help them make important decisions, using the rankings as a factor in their college search. “, did he declare.

But some education leaders believe such rankings only make matters worse.

At an event last month, US Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called for a “culture change in higher education now.”

“Too often, our best-endowed schools seek out rankings that mean very little about metrics that really matter,” he said. “This ranking system is a joke.”

He criticized “all the science behind climbing the rankings”, which he said emphasizes wealth and riches instead of broad opportunities.

“We have to stop confusing selectivity with excellence. We have to stop correlating prestige with privilege,” he said.

The US News rankings are based on a core methodology that scores schools against each other on hundreds of data points in categories such as graduation rate, resources, and reputation.

The methodology has “evolved over time,” Morse said, based on user feedback, discussions with schools and higher education experts, and more. The methodology of the latest rankings “now emphasizes outcome indicators, which together account for 40% of the overall ranking”, he said.

On Friday, Columbia University admitted submitting inaccurate data for review in college rankings. The school has fallen from second place in 2021 to 18th in the latest national university rankings, raising questions about how easily the ranking can be played.

And even still, experts say the rankings offer a narrow view of what success should look like for students who want to pursue higher education, especially as costs rise.

“In 2022, higher education should measure what matters, not just what has become a tradition to measure,” said Mamie Voight, president and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a research group and nonprofit advocacy.

“We should recognize and celebrate institutions that help their students achieve social and economic mobility. This stimulation of mobility – especially for students who have historically been left behind by higher education – is what should to be called “prestigious”, not the test of dozens of students when they arrive at university or the number of people an institution turns away.”

Experts say these institutions are unlikely to be the ones to claim stardom in the rankings.

“For the majority of us in this country, [college rankings] aren’t really useful for making the right decisions,” said Tomas Monarrez, labor economist and senior research associate at the Urban Institute’s Center for Data and Educational Policy.

Students should think about their individual goals for earning a higher education degree and the return on investment of different ways to get there.

“You don’t want to pay too much for what you’re going to earn in the job market,” he said.

Instead, some experts point to the US Department of Education college scorecard, an online tool created under the Obama administration that hosts a wealth of data on higher education institutions.

And it comes without the “for-profit motive in the middle,” Monarrez said.

But according to US News, nearly 90% of people who visit its ranking site look at schools outside of the top 10 national and liberal arts colleges/universities.

If rankings are the weed, however, some experts say broader investment in higher education is the root of it.

“The importance of the decision has been heightened over time because of its price,” Monarrez said, leading people to the rankings in the first place. And “the reason why university has become so expensive is mainly because the government has stopped investing in it”.

But education is a public good that benefits both the individual who receives it and their wider community.

“So the way to turn the tide is to start increasing our investment in public colleges again,” he said.

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