U.S. News Rankings Swing Their Big Stick

April 24, 2012

In its most recent request to colleges and universities to submit data for their annual rankings, U.S. News and World Reports has drawn a line in the sand. To be ranked at all, colleges and universities must “make use of” SAT or ACT scores of applicants.  Here’s the new stipulation:

Important Alert: The primary factor used to determine whether a school will be ranked or not in the 2013 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings to be published in September 2012 is Question 154: Does your institution make use of SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores in admission decisions for first-time, first-year, degree-seeking applicants?

The answer to this question must be “Yes” in order for a school to be ranked in the 2013 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges. A school that answers “No” will not be included in the rankings and will be listed as an “Unranked School.

This will create a dilemma for many colleges that no longer require SAT or ACT scores, but still desire to be ranked. Perhaps they’ll argue they do make use of such scores when students submit them, but that they do not require such scores to be submitted.  Will U.S. News accept that answer?  I have my doubts.

True, many colleges have stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores because making such tests optional led to colleges being able to report higher SAT or ACT scores for their entering classes: students with higher scores were the only ones who submitted them.  That led such colleges to float up a few notches in the rankings.  Of course many colleges stopped requiring submission of SAT or ACT scores simply because they did not find the information useful in making admissions decisions, and it discouraged some promising students from applying.

There’s likely to be some fussing about this move by U.S. News and World Report, and there should be.  The magazine is trying to shape admissions policies.  But the fuss is likely to miss the larger issues.  One is whether admitting “better” students (measured by SAT score or any other way) makes a college a “better college.” I’ve written about this before.  A second, of course, is whether such rankings are credible or useful at all for any purpose.

I’ve argued that such rankings stink to high heavens often, for example, here, here, here, and here.  And here’s a link to remarks I made to the Annapolis Group in 2007 urging those colleges not to cooperate in any way with the ranking organizations because such rankings are wrong in conception and pernicious in effect.

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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).
This entry was posted in Assessment, Learning, Responsibility and Ethics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to U.S. News Rankings Swing Their Big Stick

  1. d says:

    You are right, the process used by USN&WR to beancount higher ed is utterly awful.

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