The Power of US News & World Report School Rankings

A friend of mine just got done sharing on Facebook his alma matter’s high school ranking from US News & World Report. Whether you believe in rankings or not, they carry a lot of weight. People care about rankings. Especially rankings they feel they can trust. Sure people in the Ivory Tower of the Academy debate the merits or demerits of rankings, but those are academic points. Rankings are here to stay. Especially those from the most popular of all: US News & World Report.

Below is a graphic that explores the history, significance and methodology of US News & World Report’s rankings:

Visualizing the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings
Source: The College Consensus

Of particular interest to this site is the fact that a school’s application rate is directly tied to its ranking, with each position up or down carrying about a 1% difference in application rates. In other words, a school’s ranking has a fairly direct relation to a school’s economics: in the business of higher education, higher rankings mean two things. 1) More selectivity (which serves as a self-reinforcing aspect of the ranking) and 2) more potential revenue (from more potential students).

The pros and cons section from the graphic is also worth reposting:.

The most commonly cited positive qualities of the USNWR rankings:

- Uses transparent criteria and methodology

- Relies primarily on quantitative, objective data rather than subjective opinions

- Uses most recent data provided by the schools themselves

- Shows scale-adjusted scores for each school so users can see the degree of difference between each ranked school

- Provides lots of useful information about each ranked school displayed in an easily understandable manner

The most common criticisms of the USNWR rankings:

- Doesn’t sufficiently take into account significant differences between types of colleges and their particular missions and thus ends up comparing apples to oranges

- The assumptions behind the criteria used and the weightings given to them are subjective

- Gives the most weight to personal opinions regarding a school’s reputation

- Doesn’t measure the quality or amount of learning that occurs

- Doesn’t take into account outcome measures showing how students succeed after graduation

- Doesn’t consider overall cost of attendance in calculating the rankings

- Some schools have cheated the rankings by submitting false data

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