When it comes to the U.S News & World Report rankings of undergraduate colleges and universities, college admissions counselors aren't impressed. They don't like how the list is generated, the impact the rankings have on how schools operate, or find it useful in narrowing the college search—yet they acknowledge that it is gaining prominence.
The insight into the much-debated list comes from a survey out today of members of The National Association for College Admission Counseling, an Arlington, Va.-based association of 11,000 high school counselors and college admission officers.
"For college admission counselors, college rankings are a fact of life," said Pete Caruso, associate director of undergraduate admission at Boston College and chair of the NACAC Ad Hoc Committee on U.S. News & World Report Rankings, in a press release today. "Professionals in our field have consistent and long-standing concerns about rankings. Educating fellow professionals, students and families about properly incorporating information provided through rankings into a college search process is increasingly important."
On a scale of 1 (strenuously object to rankings) to 100 (strongly support the rankings), high school counselors rated the rankings a 29, while college admission officers rated the rankings a 39, indicating strong negative opinions in both areas of the profession, according to the survey, A View of the U.S. News & World Report Rankings of Undergraduate Institutions From the College Admission Counseling Perspective. Yet, the majority of those surveyed felt the rankings have increased in prominence in the past five years.
So, what's not to like about the magazine's annual list of "America's Best Colleges"? Plenty, starting with the title. Many counselors wonder, "Best for whom?" The survey respondents underscored the concern that the rankings are not objective and that students need to assess what matters most to them in choosing a college.
Then, there is the methodology behind the rankings, which those surveyed find problematic. The majority felt that several core elements of the rankings, including peer assessments, student selectivity, and alumni giving, are either "poor" predictors or not predictors at all of college quality. Better to use graduation/retention rates, faculty resources, financial resources, and graduate rate performance to assess the schools, the counselors said.
In the survey, college admission officers said they believe rankings encourage counter-productive behavior among colleges, though they are less likely to believe that such behavior takes place on their own campuses. Nealy 90 percent believe the list put pressure on institutions to invest in strategies to maintain their rankings, and 46 percent feel the colleges make programmatic changes to influence their ranking.
The NACAC committee will issue recommendations to the NACAC Board of Directors in the fall based on this and other research conducted by the committee.