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Campus Overload
Posted at 02:15 PM ET, 01/06/2012

Should colleges promote favorable rankings?


Not a month goes by without someone e-mailing to tell me about an awesome new college ranking that I must write about. Quite often, I pass. Why? Because many of the rankings out there these days are based on somewhat questionable methodologies.

I just wrote an article about the proliferation of college rankings (from hairiest students to hottest dorm dwellers to schools that look most like Hogwarts). Such lists have long been loved and hated, promoted and criticized by college administrators and admissions staffers.

Each summer, my inbox fills with press releases from universities touting the Princeton Review’s dozens of rankings, which are based on more than 120,000 online surveys completed by students with school e-mail accounts. These rankings cover a wide range of campus life issues, including quality of the cafeteria food, dorms and party scene.

George Washington and American universities often cite making Princeton’s list of “most politically active students,” which is determined by responses to the survey question, “How popular are political/activist groups on your campus?” Meanwhile, Catholic University’s Web site boasts that the college was listed in Princeton Review’s 2011 guidebook, but it doesn’t mention also making the lists for “Little Race/Class Interaction” and “LGBT-Unfriendly.”

Picking and choosing which rankings to promote can get schools into trouble, said Rae Goldsmith, vice president of advancement resources at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, an industry trade group for university spokespeople.

”If they brag about the good, but discredit the bad, then are they
discrediting the good, too?” she said. “You have to weigh if it's
worth it.”

Rather than trying to decide which rankings are okay to promote, some universities have vowed to ignore all of them. In 2007, a group of university and college presidents signed a pledge to, among other things, not “mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.”(You can read the full pledge on the Hamilton College in New York Web site.)

What do you think? Is such a pledge too drastic, or should more schools take a similar stance?

By  |  02:15 PM ET, 01/06/2012

 
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