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HomeWorldWhy Colleges Can’t Quit the U.S. News Rankings | International news

Why Colleges Can’t Quit the U.S. News Rankings | International news

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Yale Law School began the Exodus Last November: Dozens of law and medical schools, many of them among the most elite in the United States, vowed not to cooperate with the US News & World Report rankings giant. The editor’s priority bias formula was flawed, administrators complained, as was the notion that schools could be rated and ranked like mattresses or microwaves.

Critics of the rankings dared to hope that undergraduate programs at the same universities would also defect. But despite generations of private complaints about US News, most of those universities conspicuously skipped the uprising. Yale, Harvard and dozens of other universities continued to submit data for the annual US News undergraduate rankings, the 2024 edition of which will be published Monday.

“It’s been very stable and that’s a good thing,” said Eric J. Gertler, chief executive of US News.

The fact that the rebellion has gone only so far, for now, has underscored the psychic hold that rankings have on American higher education, even for the country’s most renowned schools. Rankings remain a gateway, an easy way to reach and charm potential candidates. And their reach goes beyond prospective students, as proud alumni and donors follow them as well.

Many administrators are also aware of what could happen to the renegades: Reed College’s position plummeted for a year (from the second quartile to the fourth) after its 1995 decision to stop cooperating with the rankings.

Add to that a sense of futility (US News promises to rank schools even if they drop out), administrators often feel that the easiest and clearest path is compliance, however half-hearted.

“I think their concern is that if they withdraw, it will hurt them,” said Scott Cowen, former president of Tulane University. “They’re willing to stay because they don’t want to cause problems, and if they leave, unless you’re already known as a big institution, people will say, ‘You left because you weren’t high up.’ .’”

Of the universities where at least one professional school left US News, few were willing to explain their continued allegiance to undergraduate rankings. Most of the more than two dozen schools contacted by The New York Times in recent weeks — including Duke, Harvard, Penn State, Stanford, Yale and the University of California, Los Angeles — either did not respond or declined to comment.

But administrators who were willing to speak publicly said the rankings remain crucial to getting attention in the chaotic bazaar of higher education, with more than 2,500 four-year institutions To choose from. (There are just under 200 law schools approved by the American Bar Association).

“From our perspective, it’s about getting information into the hands of prospective students,” said Andrew D. Martin, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, a highly selective institution whose medical school dropped out of the rankings. .

Furthermore, given US News’ insistence that he will rank any school he wants, he said, “I’m not even sure withdrawing means anything.”

This is particularly true if a university here or there folds, as some administrators feel that a wide range of schools, especially those at or near the top, would need to rebel to overthrow the power of US News.

“I was sure more schools would join us,” said L. Song Richardson, president of Colorado College, which tied for 27th among liberal arts colleges last year and later announced it would stop helping US News. “I’m disappointed it didn’t happen.”

Columbia University was the highest ranked school in withdraw after last year’s rankings were released. But his decision came after he fell in rankings (from No. 2 to No. 18) after the school submitted misleading data.

Richardson said the rankings were “so ingrained” in higher education that many administrators can hardly imagine not participating, especially when faced with the pressures of changing demographics and declining enrollment. For schools that lack the prestige of Princeton University or the University of California at Berkeley, a ranking can be one of a school’s most powerful marketing tools. According to Mr. Gertler, US News’ educational coverage attracts more than 100 million visitors a year online.

“It’s important to be part of the conversation, to be included in the conversation,” said Thayne M. McCulloh, president of 83rd-ranked Gonzaga University, where the law school recently ended its cooperation with US News.

US News uses different methodologies to evaluate undergraduate programs and professional schools, and complaints vary from ranking to ranking (and often from dean to dean). The editor’s avoidance of a uniform formula, Dr. McCulloh suggested, has been important.

“I think it’s fair for a law school to make a judgment about whether that ranking methodology works for them or not,” Dr. McCulloh said. “It’s a different approach than what might be used for undergraduate program ranking.”

In a move that could deter future revolts, US News said this month that its overall methodology for college student rankings had undergone “greater changes than in a typical year.”

The changes, most of which the company did not detail publicly, included altering the weightings of some factors, placing “a greater emphasis on social mobility and graduate college student outcomes,” and eliminating five factors, including the donation rate. of alumni and the undergraduate class. size. Although the changes are unlikely to change the top and bottom of the rankings, they could trigger significant changes for schools that had struggled, for example, to persuade graduates to contribute money.

But US News will continue to include its survey of academic leaders, despite years of complaints that it is essentially a popularity contest, influenced by rivalries, prejudices, slick marketing and maybe a little horse-trading.

US News’ Gertler defended the rigor of the company’s approach and said it was a service to the consumer.

“We are focused on helping students make the best decision for their education,” he said.

It’s not at all clear how many students will notice or care about the changes.

Although a recent survey found that nearly three-fifths of college-bound high school seniors “consider” rankings to some degree, more than half reported that colleges put too much emphasis on them, according to Art & Science Group, a consulting firm that works with public and private universities.

Often, administrators and researchers said, students may use rankings to prepare an initial list of potential matches, but make a final enrollment decision based on other factors, from a financial aid package to a diner’s breakfast buffet.

When it comes to rankings, students “seem to be more interested in the neighborhood than the address,” said David Strauss, director of the Art & Science Group.

The threat of defections has not disappeared. Berkeley, whose law school folded, left open the possibility of future change. A spokeswoman, Janet Gilmore, said there had not been a university-wide decision about participating in the rankings because the campus “has not yet had the opportunity to collectively think and talk about this issue.”

For now, Berkeley has continued to use its height as part of its marketing arsenal.

In an attractive brochure titled “Cal Facts,” along with a section announcing the number of Nobel Prize winners among Berkeley faculty and alumni, the university notes that it is “the number one public institution in global rankings of U.S. News & World Report.” “



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