A dozen private colleges are protesting the popular U.S. News & World Report college ranking system for allegedly misrepresenting the schools to applicants. The group is urging 570 other peer institutions to withhold statistical data from the magazine in an attempt to reform the process.
The movement began after Sarah Lawrence College President Michele Myers expressed her disapproval of the rankings in a guest column published in The Washington Post on March 11. "U.S. News benefits from our appetite for shortcuts, sound bites, and top-10 lists," she said. "The magazine has parlayed the appearance of unbiased measurements in a profitable bottom line."
Presidents Robert Weisbuch of Drew University and Anthony Marx GS '86 of Amherst College also have come forward to criticize the ranking system in the March 21 issue of Time Magazine. Besides Amherst, which is ranked second out of liberal arts schools, the other colleges that have objected to the U.S. News report felt that they have been treated unfairly in the rankings.
But Princeton — which the magazine ranked No. 1 for the seventh straight year — has continued to supply the magazine with relevant statistics. University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee '69 said that while the rankings inform students and their parents of relevant comparative data for different schools, they shouldn't be used to exclusively inform an applicant's choice of college.
"They [the students] should make sure they don't base their decisions only on the rankings, but look on the schools' websites and talk to students that go there or their guidance counselors," Durkee said.
Though the rankings can serve to help students in their choices, they should be complemented by other facets of the college search, he added, though he cited the U.S. News report as being one of the greatest influences on students and parents in the country.
"There are lots of different colleges and universities in this country that come in different sizes and shapes. It is important for parents and students to have the rankings to help make their decisions," Durkee said.
Faculty members echoed that applicants should pursue a more aggressive college search that goes beyond the statistics of college ranking systems.
"One needs to visit these [campuses] and talk to the people there; we want the students to come to us," comparative literature professor Froma Zeitlin said.
"There's always going to be problems where people feel how these things are decided is unfair," she added. "Every institution is an individual."
The rankings also have drawn criticism from education professionals for improperly ranking the diverse group of higher education institutions.
"The rankings represent a hierarchy that was in existence in the education system in 1983," when U.S. News began publishing its rankings, policy and research manager for the think tank Education Sector Kevin Carey said. "[The rankings] don't give any input on how well [the colleges] educate their students."
Criteria focusing on financial resources and selectivity "create incentives for institutions to raise spending money and tuition because that is how you get a higher ranking," he said. "[The ranking system] is essentially judging schools based on how much they are like Princeton, which it is not usually their goal to be."
Durkee added that the ranking system gives information about the graduation rates, levels of alumni support and other admissions statistics for each school, "but does not give you the flavor of what it is like to be a student."
In the Time article, Weisbuch said that higher-ranked schools need to exclude themselves from the rankings before there is any hope for changing the current system.
But Myers complained in her oped that even a "unilateral" withdrawal from the rankings would provoke U.S. News to "make up a number" that they could not otherwise find.
At a 2006 meeting of the North East Association for Institutional Research, representatives from U.S. News indicated that schools could be penalized for withheld data, which would be replaced by statistics one standard deviation lower than the national mean for that statistic, Myers added.
CorrectionThe original version of this article misrepresented University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee '69's comments regarding the utility of college rankings. The Daily Princetonian regrets the error.
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