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Answer Sheet
Posted at 05:15 PM ET, 05/19/2011

Survey: College admissions counselors wary of U.S. News rankings

College admissions counselors don’t think much of the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges and universities, according to a new survey released today.

The survey, conducted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, shows that most counselors who were surveyed don’t think the rankings are an accurate representation of information about the schools.

And they take issue with the title of the rankings, “America’s Best Colleges,” saying that it begs the question of “best for whom” when, in fact, different colleges are best for different students.

Counselors also expressed concerns that core measures of quality used in the rankings are either "poor” predictors of college quality or absolutely no use as a predictor, including peer assessment and student selectivity. Other measures used by the magazine, including faculty resources and financial resources are “fair” or “good” indicators of school quality, they said.

On a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 representing “strenuous” objection to the rankings and 100 representing “strong” support, college admissions officers rated the rankings a 39.

You can find the full survey results here.

The association sent surveys to 9,660 of its 10,915 members and received 2,649 responses for a response rate of about 27 percent.

Critics of the rankings, including me, have long said that it is unfortunate that the rankings have become so powerful in the public view that some colleges turn themselves inside out to look good in the various measures used by the magazine.

One thing to consider when deciding how much weight to give the rankings is that the largest single factor — worth 25 percent — is something called “peer assessment.”

How is that done? The magazine asks top officials at colleges and universities to rate other schools. Now that’s an objective measure for you.

The report on the survey gives advice to families about whether and how to use the rankings, including this:

“They recommend finding out what factors are (and are not) taken into account and deciding as a family what factors are relevant in measuring quality. Some members said that, because the methodology is different each year, the rankings are unstable and cannot be compared over time. They also said that the rankings are based on the incoming class as opposed to students’ experiences while at college, that some colleges, particularly prestigious private colleges, are unfairly favored by the formula, and that the rankings are based too heavily on measures of alumni giving and peer assessments, which are subjective and biased. Some respondents further emphasize that there is little statistical difference between schools and that, by placing colleges in ordinal rank, U.S. News creates the illusion of differences where there are none.”

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By  |  05:15 PM ET, 05/19/2011

 
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