Why I Don’t Rate

May 3, 2010

College, Inc. is a blog written by the Washington Post’s Dan de Vise.  This morning he writes about the U.S. News and World Report rankings.  We’re in the season when Presidents, Chief Academic Officers and Admissions Deans are asked to give a peer assessment of the quality of dozens of other colleges and universities.

As Dan notes, “One-quarter of the ranking is based on the reputation survey, which asks
presidents, provosts and admission deans to rate dozens of like institutions on a 1-to-5 scale for overall undergraduate academic merit.”  The point of his post today is to call attention to the practice of some colleges and universities to boost their peer assessment rating by sending promotional pieces to those who will do the rating in the months before those ratings are due.  At Earlham, we don’t send such promotional pieces.

More importantly, we also don’t participate in filling out the peer assessment ratings.  We don’t on principle.  How many others don’t?  There’s no way to know:  U.S. News and World Report never says what percentage of Presidents and Deans return the rating surveys.  Good research practice stipulates one should always disclose a response rate.

I believe I could give a meaningful assessment of the quality of education for just a handful of institutions:  Earlham, Swarthmore (where my son attended), Haverford (where I’m a graduate and former Board member), and one or two others where I’ve participated in an accreditation visit.  For Earlham, Haverford and Swarthmore I have a conflict of interest in assessing their quality, and for most of the other 100+ colleges U.S. News asks me to rate, I have too little knowledge.  I don’t know why other Presidents or Deans fill out the survey: I can’t see participating as a professionally responsible thing to do.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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