Problems With U.S. News College Rankings


As the college application season heats up, many of the nations’ students will turn to a new set of college rankings to help guide them in their decision-making process. As usual, this year’s ranking of American universities will stir up controversy, deemed flawed guides for students to determine what university is best for them.

Rankings are indeed an overly simplified way to evaluate the “quality” of American colleges, but most of all, they are flawed in their methodology. Universities make a mistake when they cater to these college rankings, which only serve to yield a profit for the publishers and protect a status quo among elite institutions.

Universities should adapt to the current economic situation and instead publish comprehensive financial information about their students and graduates. Giving students control over their financial future will empower them to make the best choice for their unique situations.

Symptomatic of problems in the larger rankings industry is the U.S. News college rankings, the most widely referenced rankings by American students. The most glaring problem with the U.S. News rankings is the methodology: While many of the quantitative measures are arguably objective measures of a school's quality, a large portion (22.5%) of the score is highly subjective, based on the “peer assessments” of university presidents and high school counselors. Not only is the opinion of these educators highly subjective, but this method also greatly favors private universities that have long been fit into the elite category. Schools that do not fit this bill feel great pressure to change their long-term plans to fit this mold, which further perpetuates the status quo of “good universities.”

While some colleges recognize the flaws in these rankings, there are ways that college administrations can better serve today’s students. A better valuation of colleges would include greatly expanded information on the financial situation of the students and graduates of the schools. 

Many rankings of M.B.A. programs include much of the information that should be provided by undergraduate institutions. This includes the numbers of graduates with job offers at/shortly after graduation, salaries of graduates, and figures that show the financial condition of students several years out from graduation. Equipped with this information, prospective students can be in a better position to weigh the costs and benefits of attending one college over the other. Even if it turns out that higher ranked colleges tend to produce graduates with higher salaries, at least the consumer will be able to take that information into consideration.

I am a firm believer in the value of a liberal arts education, but I believe that today’s students are in a financial situation that demands careful planning for the future. College is an expensive investment, an investment whose value is debatable. While I personally believe that college is worth every penny I have paid, it should be up to the individual to decide if it is the right path for them.

The decision to attend a college should not be based on questionable rankings but on a set of information that helps students find the best personal fit in a college with all the factors considered.

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