The punching bag of college admissions keeps taking hits. According to survey results released Thursday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, a majority of admissions professionals believe that U.S. News & World Reports annual ranking of colleges relies on flawed methodology, bears an inaccurate title (Best Colleges), and confuses students and parents.</p>
<p>Although such findings arent surprising, the survey reveals the complexity of the rankings debate. Most respondents (87 percent) agree or somewhat agree that the rankings encourage counterproductive behavior among colleges, yet a majority of admissions officers say they tout their institutions ranking in marketing campaigns, at least in a limited fashion. Curiously, 56 percent of admissions officers agree or somewhat agree that rankings help them recruit students, while 44 percent disagree or somewhat disagree.</p>
<p>One intriguing finding: More than 90 percent of admissions officers say that college rankings encourage colleges to embrace competitive strategies for maintaining or improving their spot, yet only 46 percent say that rankings drive decisions at their own colleges. Respondents beliefs that institutions are gaming the rankings generally seems to apply to other colleges, the report says, whereas they are less likely to perceive their own institution as manipulating the process.</p>
<p>In other words, the belief that theres a monster out there is twice as prevalent as the belief that a monster lurks beneath ones own bed. Perhaps that finding is more revealing of human nature than of the rankings and their effects.</p>
<p>Robert J. Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, says he welcomes the surveys findings, barbs and all. As hes often noted, opinions of the rankings are one thing; actions are another. Colleges are saying, We dont like the rankings, but were going to use them as a means to validate our quality and to attract students, he says.</p>
<p>The survey was conducted to inform the work of a NACAC committee whose members meet occasionally with U.S. News officials to discuss the rankings and their impact on higher education. David A. Hawkins, NACACs director of public policy and research, describes the survey as an attempt to distinguish between whats real and whats perceived. Do college officials underestimate the power of rankings, or do high school counselors overstate them? Or both?</p>
<p>Mr. Hawkins hopes that the surveys findings will bring more clarity to the rankings debate, even if they dont prompt U.S. News to make any changes to its guide. If they are receptive, that would be great, he says, but I dont know that Im holding my breath.</p>
<p>Surely, thats wise. After all, a majority the surveys respondents may believe that Best Colleges is an inaccurate representation of the rankings, but some things are here to stay. Were not going to change the name of our product, Mr. Morse says.