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A critique of the US News & World Report college rankings

factcheckerfactchecker Posts: 16Registered User New Member
edited February 2011 in Parents Forum
The current issue (February 14, 2011) of the New Yorker has an article by Malcolm Gladwell called The Order Of Things that truly puts the value of US News & World Reports College Rankings in perspective. Unfortunately they only have a short abstract on their website, but you can always go to the library if you don't want to buy the magazine.
This is well worth reading. No one has done a better job of showing the "flaws" in their methodology
Post edited by factchecker on
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Replies to: A critique of the US News & World Report college rankings

  • SaintSaensSaintSaens Posts: 1,147Registered User Senior Member
    I noticed that a large portion of the essay was spent putting Penn State on a pedestal.

    He makes including price in rankings seem really simple, even though the whole financial aid system can make tracking affordability and price pretty complicated.
  • noimaginationnoimagination Posts: 7,016Registered User Senior Member
    He makes including price in rankings seem really simple, even though the whole financial aid system can make tracking affordability and price pretty complicated.
    IPEDS now has net price data from the 2006-07 school year on. It actually makes this process ridiculously simple.
  • MisterKMisterK Posts: 1,552Registered User Senior Member
    What is IPEDS?
  • emeraldkity4emeraldkity4 Posts: 32,936Registered User Senior Member
    Thanks for the info noimagination.

    I looked up my school district.
    For every student in Seattle- over $400 a year goes to interest on debt.
    :rolleyes:

    US News has some useful info- but it is simply one source out of hundreds.

    The Atlantic in 2005 had an article by someone who was the dean ( until he assumed a college presidency), of the UPenn law school.
    He has the perspective of being at school that took the ranking seriously... to being at a school that doesn't.

    The previous college president, also did not cooperate with US News.
    Steven Koblik> News of the College
  • starbrightstarbright Posts: 4,660Registered User Senior Member
    As a professor who lived one too many years in a unversity environment enslaved by Business Week rankings, and then fled out of the country where they do not exist...it is bliss. I can not emphasize enough how dealing with/responding to/"playing the game" of rankings HURT the education of our students. God, it was such a stupid manipulative waste of time pursuing so many things that absolutely did not matter to the educational experience. Lord only knows how the data was messed with and sent in (what? you think institutions of higher education are above such self-interested scheming where there is no regulation?)

    Kudos to Reed. What a fabulous institution.
  • JHSJHS Posts: 14,044Registered User Senior Member
    I was reading the Gladwell article last night, but fell asleep before I finished it. The part I read was like shooting fish in a barrel: Of course, the one-size-fits-all rankings for disparate institutions are inherently distortive; of course relatively small changes in weightings can produce deceptively large differences in rankings; of course many of the factors used because they are easily measured and verified have a questionable correlation to the beneficial qualities they supposedly index. Diver's piece makes many of the same points anecdotally.

    I will also say that I disagree with many of the factors and weights used in the US News rankings.

    That said, I have to acknowledge that on the whole I find the US News project admirable and valuable. However imperfect, it is a good-faith effort to take a variety of data and present it in a useful format. As a life-long educational snob and Establishment guy, I never felt I needed US News to tell me that Harvard, Yale, Williams, and the University of Chicago were the bee's knees. Reed, too. And US News was NOT going to convince me that the University of Michigan was some sort of mediocrity. But maybe I did need US News to make me pay more attention to what was being offered at places like Northwestern, Vanderbilt, USC, Wash U. Or to alert me that maybe Berkeley wasn't head and shoulders above UCLA anymore. And if I DIDN'T think I already knew everything I needed to know -- say, I was a parent who had never gone to college, or the child of one, and no one had sung me "With Crimson In Triumph Flashing" in the cradle -- I'm not certain I would be worse off starting with US News than I would be by talking to someone like me. (It would be dumb, of course, to start with either and to stop there. You need more information than I or US News can supply to make a good personal decision.)

    Gladwell makes fun of US News deciding that Penn State is one point better than Yeshiva University, whose target markets barely overlap if at all. But no one is really comparing Penn State and Yeshiva, so that hardly matters. If you don't get hung up on the false precision of the rankings, it's interesting and valuable information about Yeshiva (an institution about which I know next to nothing -- I learned from the Gladwell piece that it has separate men's and women's campuses) that it roughly matches up with solid state universities in US News' particular blend of quality measures.
  • ingerpingerp Posts: 866Registered User Member
  • vonlostvonlost Posts: 13,726Super Moderator Senior Member
    In this Internet age paper-static one-size-fits-none rankings are simply obsolete. Tools like College Search - College Confidential are superior.
  • emeraldkity4emeraldkity4 Posts: 32,936Registered User Senior Member
    I agree vossron- ranking things is for people who are too insecure to come up with their own criteria.
  • woeishewoeishe Posts: 1,324- Member
    ^ False. 10char
  • emeraldkity4emeraldkity4 Posts: 32,936Registered User Senior Member
    I will explain what I mean- I dont have a problem with using info that elaborates on how many students qualify for aid, or what is the amount of debt at graduation, or other info that is already gathered for you.

    But develop your ranking for that criteria & decide what is important to you.

    Don't be a sheep & use what some magazine is hoping will boost sales for your own ranking, because their interest is in not going out of business, not on what your needs are.
  • vonlostvonlost Posts: 13,726Super Moderator Senior Member
    Imagine magazine editors inventing a formula to rank the best music. They could include sales data, musicians' experience, microphones used, instrument brands, number of performers, price of recordings, years in the business, and so on. The background data would be supplied by the record companies. Imagine that the formula was crafted to make the Beatles and the Berlin Philharmonic come out on top, and the rest of the rankings were what everyone expected.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Posts: 6,484Registered User Senior Member
    What I don't like about the US News ranking is that too many gullible, prestige-obsessed kids take it as their Bible and instead of looking for good-to-excellent schools that work for them, end up thinking that a place or two--or six or twelve---in the US News ranking should be what determines their choice of a college.

    What I do like about the US News ranking on-line edition is that it's a handy, reasonably user-friendly source of data that allows me to compare institutions across many dimensions. I know that some of the data are manipulable. I know for a fact that some schools do manipulate the data, and/or act strategically---not always in the best interest of their students---to gain an edge in data categories that can move their US News rankings. For those reasons some of the data need to be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, much of the data is useful. And I'm free to ignore the data categories I don't care about, like percentage of alumni who contribute, or even expenditure per student which could just as easily be an indicator of bloat and inefficiency as an indicator of quality.
  • vonlostvonlost Posts: 13,726Super Moderator Senior Member
    I think it's easier to ignore the categories we don't care about when they don't influence the rankings; the online tools let us include only what is important to us.
  • noimaginationnoimagination Posts: 7,016Registered User Senior Member
    What is IPEDS?
    The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System - Home Page

    Your tax dollars at work.
    In this Internet age paper-static one-size-fits-none rankings are simply obsolete.
    Agreed.
    ^ False. 10char
    There's a cogent argument... :cool:
    What I do like about the US News ranking on-line edition is that it's a handy, reasonably user-friendly source of data that allows me to compare institutions across many dimensions. I know that some of the data are manipulable. I know for a fact that some schools do manipulate the data, and/or act strategically---not always in the best interest of their students---to gain an edge in data categories that can move their US News rankings. For those reasons some of the data need to be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, much of the data is useful. And I'm free to ignore the data categories I don't care about, like percentage of alumni who contribute, or even expenditure per student which could just as easily be an indicator of bloat and inefficiency as an indicator of quality.
    I'm not sure why you are paying for something that can be had for free from other sources. Unless USNews is making their full online system free now?
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