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Northwestern and USNews trade insults online over college rankings

pupflierpupflier Registered User Posts: 74 Junior Member
Northwestern President fired the first shot with his Op-ed


Now USNews has shot back with this

We hope that Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, and his colleague Gary Saul Morson have higher research and fact-checking standards for their students than those on display in their op-ed “Oh what a tangled web schools weave: The college rankings game.”


Replies to: Northwestern and USNews trade insults online over college rankings

  • GreymeerGreymeer Registered User Posts: 88 Junior Member
    "Graduation rates, retention rates and graduation rate performance are the most heavily weighted factors in the methodology"

    They need to rethink this. If you have a very high gradation/retention rate, north of 95% your college is probably not challenging.

    They should give 5% of their rankings to a "difficulty/challenging" metric.

    If you have colleges A and B that have identical student profiles, but college B graduates 90% and A 97%... college B is probably graduating a higher quality student.
  • hzhao2004hzhao2004 Registered User Posts: 489 Member
    USNWR's response is not very convincing. How do they "know" majority of schools' data are accurate?
  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Registered User Posts: 2,851 Senior Member
    edited September 1
    They need to rethink this. If you have a very high graduation/retention rate, north of 95% your college is probably not challenging.

    There are flaws in graduation/retention, but it is by no means about a lack of challenge. Those rates are often highly affected by people who drop out for financial reasons, disproportionately affecting schools with more low income students.

    Look at top challenging schools too, and dropouts are not about the challenge but how well the school supports its students when the times get tough. A good school should not have a high drop out rate, but perhaps it has a lower average GPA.


    The list above is full of challenging schools that no one would argue (in addition to grade inflated ones too of course, but stull). What you will find is that if you compare this with the NYT stats on college economic diversity, I suspect there's a strong correlation.
  • TomSrOfBostonTomSrOfBoston Registered User Posts: 10,871 Senior Member
    @Greymeer Or college B provides better financial aid or college B provides a better student life experience or college B provides etc.etc.
  • Wilson98Wilson98 Registered User Posts: 203 Junior Member
    The Op-ed (which is excerpted from a book by Northwestern's president and a professor there) comes off not so much as an attack on US News but more like Northwestern whining about all the other colleges being dishonest and gaming the system. They go through a number of dubious practices that a school could do or "allegedly" has done without naming any names, and without stating how widespread these things are, or how much effect they really have.

    Sure there is some gaming of numbers. And sure someone could question US News' priorities or methodology. But this is a pretty weak attack on the ranking system. Of course, it could be that anyone who frequents this website will read it and say, "Yeah, somebody somewhere is probably doing that. So what?"
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,999 Senior Member

    "Sure there is some gaming of numbers."

    How do you know that there isn't a lot of gaming of numbers? The incentives are there for everyone to game their numbers.

    "And sure someone could question US News' priorities or methodology."

    Certainly. Many people on CC and elsewhere have.

    "But this is a pretty weak attack on the ranking system."

    Weak in what way?
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 2,512 Senior Member
    edited September 1
    If you want to see more effective criticism, look to Reed College. Reed is currently the only top school that refuses to cooperate with USNWR at all, and doesn't provide USNWR with the data that they need for their ranking system. https://www.reed.edu/apply/college-rankings.html

    Of course, USNWR ranks Reed anyway, they just substitute very conservative numbers for the missing values. This ensures that Reed's ranking stays low.

    At one time, Reed was in the Top Ten of the USNWR National LAC ranking. Then Reed criticized the system and stopped supplying data. This is what happened next:
    The next year, however, instead of simply omitting Reed from its list, the magazine assigned Reed the lowest possible score in several areas and relegated the college to the lowest tier—the most precipitous decline in the history of the U.S. News ratings.
    So the President of Northwestern has to be careful here. He may criticize USNWR, but he will probably continue to cooperate with them.
  • IWannaHelpIWannaHelp Registered User Posts: 217 Junior Member
    edited September 1
    US News doesn't have the resource to know the "majority of data are accurate". So what even if, say, five of the seven variables are accurate? Manipulating two of them is enough to change the ranking. A while back, someone on CC caught the misreporting of NAE number by USC. Their engineering's ranking dropped few spots after correction. Recently, I caught what I believe an honest mistake by Duke on their CDS (I informed them and they have since corrected it). I doubt USN would catch any of it. People working in magazine industry aren't known to be number savvy anyway and there's no way they can afford to hire an army to fact check given their slim profit margin.
  • TomSrOfBostonTomSrOfBoston Registered User Posts: 10,871 Senior Member
    edited September 1
    Most of the stats submitted to USNews are also submitted to Moody's as one source of determining that school's bond rating. So knowingly fudging these stats could have serious consequences, possibly criminal, far beyond the USNews rankings.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,999 Senior Member
    edited September 1
    @TomSrOfBoston: What stats are submitted to Moody's?

    Furthermore, if a college submits one set of numbers to Moody's and another to USNews, would either investigate? Who would know? I doubt Moody's releases the numbers they get.

    And to echo @IWannaHelp, it may only take fudging a few stats, not all of them, to affect rankings.
  • TomSrOfBostonTomSrOfBoston Registered User Posts: 10,871 Senior Member
    edited September 1
    @PurpleTitan This is an excerpt from Moody's website re: Northeastern University:
    *Undergraduate student demand is strong (32% freshmen selectivity in fall 2013), and the university has achieved strong student retention, expanded geographic diversification of the student body, and steady improvement in the academic caliber of enrolling undergraduate students.

    I saw the attachment to the Moody's submission (which I can't find now) that contained about 5 years of USNews stats...and they matched.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,999 Senior Member
    OK, so pretty much none of the
    "Faculty resources" category ("Faculty compensation", "Percent faculty with terminal degree in their field", "Percent faculty that is full time", "Student-faculty ratio", "Class size") would be reported to Moody's.

    I could certainly see some gaming/fudging done there. Even the numbers reported to Moody's, even though accurate, could be gamed.
  • Sam-I-AmSam-I-Am Registered User Posts: 431 Member
    The new USNWR rankings come out in less than two weeks, so I think that the authors did the publishers a great favor by focusing the public's attention on college rankings. :!!
  • fivesagesfivesages Registered User Posts: 69 Junior Member
    edited September 1
    As @Wilson98 pointed out above, Northwestern is simply whining. It is mind-boggling to see a university that is ranked in the top-20 out of 2000+ colleges/universities in the country is talking about unfairness in the ranking system. How about the President of NW speaks to high schoolers or students at the universities that are ranked above Northwestern and asks where they would place Northwestern. And, asks why. Here is some data (Source: Parchment):
    Between Dartmouth & Northwestern: 81% chose Dartmouth
    Between Duke and Northwestern: 88% chose Duke
    Between Brown and Northwestern: 75% chose Brown
  • GreymeerGreymeer Registered User Posts: 88 Junior Member
    @penguin20 @TomSrOfBoston

    I think the colleges could categorize the myriad of reasons for which a student leaves the college. If a student transfers they can state a reason for transfer. If a student doesn't enroll and they have had poor grades. Etc.
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