In America, there is no shortage of amazing higher education institutions, and there is no shortage of qualified applicants vying to get into them. It seems like an impossible task to determine just which university is the best, but the U.S. News & World Report has developed a college ranking system to do just that.
Recently, their rankings have come under fire. According to The Washington Post, several schools disclosed that they either submitted incorrect test scores, or overstated the high school ranking of their incoming freshman class to improve the school’s ranking.
Most recently, Tulane University has said that the admissions statistics for their business school have been exaggerated in past years. Bucknell University, George Washington University, Claremont McKenna College, and Emory University have also recently admitted they submitted inaccurate information to U.S. News.
In regards to some of the recent cases, The Washington Post reports, that “college officials said an employee intentionally submitted inaccurate data. In others, it was unclear whether the mistake was intentional. GWU attributed its errors to a flaw in data-reporting systems that dated back a decade.”
Many college admissions officers believe that this problem has to do with the U.S. News rankings themselves.
Since colleges self-report data, the current system creates an incentive for schools to skew incoming students’ statistics to improve their rankings. The U.S. News & World Report college listing is widely regarded as the definitive resource for college listings. Schools know that students view the rankings as the end all be all, which can create a vicious cycle of misrepresentation.
“It seems that because the rankings are of such great interest to the public it has gotten the attention of many [universities]. For that reason they want to participate and do well. It’s hard to completely generalize but many institutions feel like...reluctant participants in the process. But the concern of participating is not as great as the concern of not participating. They do it for fear of being placed at a competitive disadvantage [with other schools],” said Joseph Zolner, Director of Higher Education Programs at Harvard University, to TakePart.
Zolner also points out that people often don’t understand the criteria upon which these rankings are based. He says, “The consumer needs to understand the criteria used to derive these rankings. If it’s a number that comes out of nowhere, or you don’t know what it’s based on, it can be misleading. The consumer has to understand what’s behind it. The most useful way [the rankings] can be utilized by perspective students is for them to really understand the inner workings of the rankings and make sure that information is something they’re interested in.”
Zolner suggests that families use other college listings that do independent analysis of the data reported by institutions. Both Forbes and the Princeton Review publish college rankings with fully explained methodology behind their lists.
When searching for schools, it is easy to pick the one that is ranked higher than all the others. However, if those rankings are based on inaccurate information due to a flawed system, you may wind up at the wrong school. It is important to understand the methodology behind the rankings and determine what you are really looking for in a college.