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Dickinson Announces New Rankings Policy

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley 6083 replies100309 threadsFounder Senior Member
edited February 2007 in Dickinson College
Joining the schools taking a stand against numeric rankings like those computed by USNews, the president of Dickinson College issued the following statement (reprinted here with permission):
Today, the annual "U.S.News" rankings will be available to the public. Please do not expect to see our ranking and associated commentary on our Web site or in any other official Dickinson publication.

As you well know, Dickinson is among those colleges that has long protested the applicability and responsibility of the "U.S.News" rankings. That said, until this year, we posted our ranking and celebrated, or seemingly lamented, every little move on the sliding scale—as irrational as the evaluation might be. To be consistent with our broader position, we will stop posting "U.S.News" rankings or any other commercial ranking system, including "The Princeton Review". We must not advance these instruments. Such systems only create unneeded "noise" and misinformation, and contribute decisively to the frenzy and high anxiety that now define the college admissions process. As you may know, Dickinson ceased completing the inappropriately subjective "Academic Prestige" survey for "U.S.News". Thus, our current action, decided upon several months ago, is simply a progressive step.

While our gesture is now a singular one, we are working with other prominent colleges and universities to make our current actions a shared position toward commercially-offered numerical rankings and to deliver to the public that information which permits serious transparency and judgment about our academic quality and general educational accomplishment.

If we are asked to comment upon the rankings, the following statement will be provided:

Dickinson will no longer comment on the rankings of colleges and universities by "U.S.News" or other media. While guidebooks often provide useful information about institutions, Dickinson is engaged in a nationwide effort, through The Education Conservancy and other groups, to question the methodology and assignment of numerical rankings because, by their nature, such rankings are artificial and often misleading.

In the spirit of openness Dickinson does respond to requests from guidebooks for quantitative information about the college. Our president, provost and vice president for enrollment do not, however, participate in opinion surveys about other institutions, such as the "U.S.News" ratings of "academic prestige."

We encourage prospective students and their families to make their own direct efforts to learn about colleges and universities by contacting institutions and visiting their campuses. There are many fine colleges and universities in the United States, and rather than relying on rankings, students should seek to find the best fit based on their own educational goals and on colleges' specific programs and dispositions.

Bill Durden '71
President
One quality LAC doesn't constitute a major movement, but it will be interesting to see if any other colleges follow suit.
edited February 2007
70 replies
Post edited by Roger_Dooley on
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Replies to: Dickinson Announces New Rankings Policy

  • Luxar3000Luxar3000 278 replies5 threads Junior Member
    God Bless Dickinson College.
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  • babarbabar 320 replies4 threads Member
    YAY for Dickinson!
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  • MallomarCookieMallomarCookie 3159 replies22 threads Senior Member
    I think the general public will not view this as a triumph in the fight against meaningless rankings and prestige-mongering...they will view this as Dickinson being a sore loser. We need a college that's ranked highly in US News to speak out against it.
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  • zephyr151zephyr151 1604 replies55 threads Senior Member
    I doubt that the 41st-ranked LAC is really going to make a difference.
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  • TarhuntTarhunt 2126 replies12 threads Senior Member
    To me, there are several assumptions here I have a hard time swallowing:

    1. The US News rankings are somehow "bad." I don't think they're bad. Considering the data that is available, I think US News does a very fine job. It's not perfect. There are numbers that would be more useful (for instance, knowledge and skills before and after a given college's education). But those numbers rarely, if ever, exist.

    2. We, as parents, are not intellectually capable of interpreting the rankings. Apparently, only college administrators can do that for us.

    3. Subjective rankings are bad. I would agree only when quantitative rankings are conclusive. Since these are not conclusive due to incomplete or unavailable data, a subjective evaluation is very useful.

    4. Using data to evaluate an institution is bad. I suspect Dickinson uses data to evaluate those it will admit and not admit. Is the Dickinson admissions department bad?
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  • thethoughtprocessthethoughtprocess 4056 replies111 threads Senior Member
    Wait, doesn't Dickinson use SAT scores, class rank, etc. to determine their incoming class admittances?

    Why can't US News use similarly objective factors to rank colleges?
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  • HindooHindoo 5841 replies8 threads Senior Member
    Thank you, Dickinson! While I look at the US News rankings very intently, I also know that some wonderful colleges aren't ranked in the top 20. My oldest daughter--an A student, superb athlete, and 32 ACT-scorer is attending number 68 this fall, as a freshman. It seems like the perfect fit. We need to keep these rankings in perspective--they're valuable, but only to a point.
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  • babarbabar 320 replies4 threads Member
    Dickinson uses data to evaluate applicants but strives to select students who are a good fit for the school. US News rankings aren't "bad," but in order to maintain or move up a position, a school like Dickinson has to game the system much the way kids today feel they have to when assessing what will make them look appealing, and this results in making decisions that otherwise might be different. I applaud this school. It is one small step by one small school in the right direction.
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  • CorbettCorbett 3434 replies4 threads Senior Member
    Wait, doesn't Dickinson use SAT scores, class rank, etc. to determine their incoming class admittances?
    Sure they do. But in the end, Dickinson uses such data only to sort their thousands of applicants into a few general categories: "Accepted", "Waitlisted", or "Rejected". They don't pretend that their data are precise or accurate enough to assign a specific rank to each individual student -- or if they do, they don't announce such ranks publicly.
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  • TarhuntTarhunt 2126 replies12 threads Senior Member
    Corbett:

    So, what you're saying is that I have no concept of statistical relevancy. I don't know the difference between a confidence level and margin of error. I have no idea how to differentiate between objective and subjective data. I am incapable of understanding the methods and weighting system US News uses.

    In short, I must be protected from US News because, poor 'ol me, I'm just too stupid to get it.

    Right?
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  • thethoughtprocessthethoughtprocess 4056 replies111 threads Senior Member
    lol, the US News doesn't lie about the data, it just says "according to this set methodology, this school is given an overall raw score of number X, which ranks it number Y"

    It doesn't do anymore than that besides attempt to quantitatively list schools - and most agree that the schools ranked number 5 are better than ranked 15, which in turn are better than ranked 25, etc. It makes for a decent way to look at schools when you don't know anything about them.
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  • jdevallejdevalle 189 replies29 threads Junior Member
    Listen all I know is that as a high school sophomore, I had no idea about colleges outside of the ivys and a few other big names. I come from another country so my parents or family had no clue either... the US News provided a very solid guide, a prelimanary list to say the least, of colleges I should look at...

    I think that is the real purpose of the rankings and how they should ultimately be used. Its not like anyone is going to pick a school based solely on its ranking. For example im going to Georgetown (#23-should be higher lol) but I turned down a couple of higher ranked schools in Penn (#4 last year) and Cornell (#12 i think). So as long as they are used right, I think they are quite useful.

    I dont understand this hatred for the US News rankings... if they dont really mean anything, then why dont you just leave them alone? You can certainly disagree with them, but thats the beauty of any ranking.
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  • calmmorningcalmmorning 20 replies11 threads Junior Member
    Ok.
    I'm not so good at presenting my idea like many of ccers here..

    But as a high school senior who's suffering under the pressure..
    I'd like to say that the "ranking system" ought to be more subjective.

    The "US news ranking" uses categories that are overly comprehensive that it is hard for students and parents to know the real characters and values of certain schools.

    To me, the US news ranking, only gives "numerical values" that hardly represent clear ideas of at what things some schools are really excellent or poor at.
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  • CorbettCorbett 3434 replies4 threads Senior Member
    So, what you're saying is that I have no concept of statistical relevancy. I don't know the difference between a confidence level and margin of error. I have no idea how to differentiate between objective and subjective data. I am incapable of understanding the methods and weighting system US News uses.
    I am a big fan of statistical relevancy, and I hope that you are too. But if you are, then you should support full disclosure of the statistical data.

    I would challenge US News to actually estimate and publish the margin of error for its rankings. Exactly how large, for example, is the 95% confidence interval on school #27's ranking? Plus or minus two spots? Five? Ten? Would you agree that such information is statistically relevant?

    I don't object to college or university rankings in principle, and I accept that colleges and universities can be ranked into general "tiers". However, I strongly suspect that the US News draws fine distinctions within the top tiers that are not statistically defensible.

    The US News rankings are obviously useful and of great interest to many people. However, they would be still be very useful -- and a lot more realistic -- if the rankings were more general. For ranking purposes, the similarities between schools like (for example) Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford are more compelling than the differences.
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  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley 6083 replies100309 threadsFounder Senior Member
    I think the biggest problem with the rankings is that they presume there is an objective "better" that is more or less universally applicable for all students. In fact, a tiny liberal arts college might be a much better choice for some students, and a giant state university a great choice for others - and neither would figure prominently in the rankings. The way the rankings are expressed, students choosing these schools are made to feel if they are somehow making an inferior selection or settling for "second best", which isn't the case at all.

    The rankings also imply a degree of precision that doesn't really exist. Changing the weighting of the ranking criteria or adding a few new criteria could cause a major shift in the order.

    For students like delavalle, the rankings are a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they DO tell the prospective applicant about key aspects of many schools. On the other hand, they suggest a "better" and "worse" relationship between schools that may not exist.
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  • fastMEdfastMEd 974 replies99 threads- Member
    I think only lesser colleges complain about this since they are shown to be a lesser college by a certain ranking system.

    True, there are occasions when not enough people respond to the surveys and that may lower the rank (like UChicago), but that is in the minority.

    On the whole, the ranking system is reasonable. What do SAT scores and high school GPAs mean? Nothing. US News has the right criteria. Number of top quality professors, retention rates, perceived prestige by fellow institutions, etc. Those are the things relevent to college. SATs and hs gpas are useful for admissions not college quality.

    By top quality professors (that generally means nobel winners or field medals).
    Perceived prestige is also important since that is important for jobs. No matter what they say, this subjective ranking is useful. People do not think Berkeley is much better than Arizona State for no reason.
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  • CitanCitan 2165 replies122 threads Senior Member
    good for dickinson
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  • RMassaRMassa 1 replies0 threads New Member
    As the vice president of Dickinson College and the parent of a college junior and a recent graduate, I would like to weigh in on this issue first to clarify Dickinson’s position and then to comment in general on what the college admission process has become.

    First, there are about 650 undergraduate liberal arts colleges in the US. That Dickinson is “generally” considered to be among the top 10% of those colleges (whether ranked by US News or not) hardly makes the college a “sore loser” nor does it make it irrelevant. To the latter point, it is one of only 5 colleges founded before 1800 that is still a small college today, and was one of the original colleges that defined American higher education for the future during the revolutionary era. (I hasten to add this, but to respond to the “sore loser” assertion, Dickinson actually moved up 4 places in USNews from last year and is ranked by Princeton Review as #11 in the college library category, whatever that means).

    The rising prominence of USNews and other rankings is symptomatic of a larger issue – our desire as a society to distill complex information quickly without having to spend a lot of time doing the work ourselves. The order in which colleges are ranked is, to the public, a surrogate for their quality – and that is inaccurate and quite simplistic. For example, Dickinson’s endowment is the 42nd largest among all liberal arts colleges. It is no coincidence that USNews ranks the college at #41. The USNews rankings correlate most significantly with institutional wealth, not with HOW an institution spends its resources (a more accurate indication of quality).

    By the way, Dickinson does not require standardized tests for admission, though 90% of our applicants do submit scores and we do use the test as one criterion in the admission process. We have taken this stance for the past ten years precisely for the same reasons we now will not promote USNews or other rankings on our website or in admissions literature: the SAT can be used by admission offices as a “shortcut” to the measurement of student quality and fit, just as institutional wealth is used as a shortcut in the rankings. We wanted to send a clear message to the members of our community that Dickinson will not do this.

    I truly believe that when colleges and others bemoan the USNews rankings, it not so much the “hatred of the rankings” that motivates, but a general frustration with a college admission process that has become commercialized and stress-producing for students and for colleges. We have, particularly in the East, lost sight of the notion of institutional fit – finding the right college for the right student. It has become all about rankings and prestige and window stickers. Colleges share equal responsibility with students and families for this state of affairs.

    One final point as illustration. In my last of ten years as the dean of enrollment at Johns Hopkins, a parent cornered me at an open house to ask about the political science department. When I told her that the chair of the department would be available later in the day, she announced that they couldn’t stay because they were driving to North Carolina and that “they” were only going to apply to “top ten” universities anyway. Hopkins was ranked number 15 in USNews that year (1998). Of course, the joke was on them: when the rankings came out in 1999, Hopkins had “risen” to number 7. Point – it’s not the rankings, but how we use them to guide our decisions that has become the problem. Dickinson is simply saying – we will not contribute to their misuse by congratulating ourselves publicly for being among the top colleges in the country.

    I hope this helps to clarify our position (which was meant only to be shared within our community, but which has obviously found its way into public).

    Robert J. Massa
    Vice President
    Enrollment & College Relations
    Dickinson College
    [email protected]
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  • hoedownhoedown 3742 replies9 threads Senior Member
    Thank you for taking the time to share Dickinson's perspective--that's really valuable.

    I would also challenge those who dismiss non-participants as "sore losers" with the fact that Dickinson is not alone. Reed stands out on this list. One would be hard-pressed to convince me that Reed is a "sore loser."
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  • TarhuntTarhunt 2126 replies12 threads Senior Member
    Corbett:

    US News can't give us those numbers because the samplings aren't random and there are not and can never be benchmarks. I'm quite sure that no factor analysis has been done or can even be done in the absence of benchmarks.

    What I was trying to say is that I think I'm perfectly capable of interpreting the numbers, and US News publishes the weightings and the most of the numbers on which its rankings depend. In that context, the US News rankings are quite useful.

    As for tiers, I don't understand why ranking one school with, say, a score of 76 as "first tier" and another school with a score of 75 a "second tier" school could possibly be more useful than publishing the scores and the data points in rank order.
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