The recent revelation that Columbia University – that’s right, that Columbia University, the one that is a pillar of the Ivy League – was misreporting data to USNews has further discredited the college rankings that are published there. 

Can anyone continue to believe that the USNews rankings, which once were considered valuable by students, parents, and guidance counselors, contain information that is accurate or reliable? 

Well in fairness, some intelligent people will continue to rely on those rankings as they pick colleges that are worth applying to. But in recent years the validity of a lot of the factors that USNews weighs when comparing and ranking colleges has been widely questioned. Does a higher rate of alumni giving contribute markedly to the student experience? But what about the average amount of debt incurred by graduates? Or the percentage of faculty members who are full-time? Or the percentage rate of students who graduate after six years?

Arguably, all those factors, which are weighed by USNews when ranking colleges, do affect student satisfaction. But can they really be used to say that Yale is better than, say, Johns Hopkins? Or that Princeton is better than American University?

More and more often, people are wondering. 

Now, another publication has piled on and is criticizing the way USNews ranks colleges. The publication is Real Clear Education, which recently published an article entitled “College Presidents: Take a Public Stand on U.S. News Rankings Scandal” by Dave Maney. 

In his article, Mr. Maney urges college presidents to speak out about what is wrong with the USNews rankings. 

He urges college presidents to speak out by taking these actions:

  • Acknowledge that the annual rankings have not been a reliable measure of a college or university’s true value if they ever were. 
  • Concede that your institution, like many others, has felt compelled to participate or risk being left behind come application season.
  • Say aloud what you’ve been saying privately: that these detailed ratings do a severe disservice to students, their families, and your institution by forcing you and your team to pursue many of the wrong objectives for the sake of the “rankings.” 
  • Admit if your institution has fudged any data. “If your team spun a little too hard,” Mr. Maney suggests, “this would be a great time to admit it and explain the pressures that led to it. Real credibility would also accrue.”

How can students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors direct students to the best colleges for them? One answer is to remember that there are a small number of colleges that are best for each student’s individual goals, motivations, aptitudes, personalities, and more. That is where the rankings lie, not within the rankings of any one publication. 

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