Saturday, February 6, 2016
According to this story in the Washington Post, only 18% of college freshmen queried in a recent poll said that the rankings were an important influence on their decision about what school to attend and for many students the rankings weren't even among the top 10 factors influencing their decision.
It’s been nearly 25 years since U.S. News & World Report introduced the annual version of its college rankings. That’s also when the rankings shifted from what had largely been a beauty contest based solely on a survey of college presidents to one that aimed to replicate the quantitative nature of Consumer Reports.
If Consumer Reports could tell you with some specificity the best washer to buy or the most reliable car on the market, the thinking was that U.S. News could do the same with one of the most expensive purchases in life: a college degree.
But unlike Consumer Reports, which ranked products on how well they performed in daily use, U.S. News decided to rank colleges on the types of students they accepted (SAT scores and class rank), how much they spent on faculty (salaries and class size), and how many students stayed in school and graduated. It was as if Consumer Reports judged products based on the quality of their raw ingredients rather than the final product.
The rankings turned into a big business for U.S. News, even outlasting the print magazine that gave birth to them. They also spawned dozens of copycat rankings from other publications and organizations during the past two decades.
While the U.S. News rankings still loom large among colleges that try anything to improve their position — just see the recent controversy at Mount St. Mary’s University — there are signs that the list is beginning to show its age in an era of changing consumer behavior about picking colleges.
For one, according to an annual survey of college freshmen across the country by UCLA researchers, just 18 percent of students said magazine rankings were important in influencing their final college selection. Rankings didn’t even break the top 10 among the factors students said were important.
The second reason the U.S. News rankings are in trouble is that several new tools and sets of rankings have emerged in recent years that are simply better, including Money magazine, the Economist, the federal government’s College Scorecard, and LinkedIn. They all attempt to do what U.S. News has largely failed to do: measure what actually happens to students after graduation — their jobs and salaries and their level of debt. In other words, they are trying to be Consumer Reports for higher education.
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