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Correction to This Article
A May 20 A-section article incorrectly said that the Arizona Board of Regents approved performance bonuses for Arizona State University President Michael Crow with the single goal of rising above "third-tier" designation in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings. Changing the designation was merely one benchmark set by the board.

Some Colleges Want to Curb Flow of Data to Magazine

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By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

There is growing dissension in the ranks of the ranked.

A group of college presidents, fed up with the annual U.S. News & World Report list of top colleges, has begun pressuring colleagues to limit the information they provide to the magazine and eliminate any mention of the list when promoting their schools.

Administrators say they know they cannot stop the rankings. "But why should we help U.S. News sell magazines?" asked Robert J. Massa, vice president for enrollment and college relations at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. "That is, after all, their primary goal."

Letters began circulating among college administrators several months ago, urging them to stop cooperating with the magazine. Some presidents have ratcheted up the pressure, writing magazine articles, posting on blogs and gaining supporters along the way.

"We believe these rankings are misleading and do not serve well the interests of prospective students in finding a college or university that is well suited to their education beyond high school," read a letter sent from 12 school presidents, including Dickinson President William G. Durden, St. John's College President Christopher B. Nelson and Drew University President Robert Weisbuch to hundreds of other university leaders.

The letter asks colleges to give the magazine only data collected in accord with shared professional standards, including enrollment and transfer rates, degrees conferred and financial aid, among other information, and "not the idiosyncratic standards of any single publication."

And it asks them to stop filling out U.S. News's "peer reputation" survey, which asks administrators to rank other schools in their region -- sometimes 150 -- by completing a form that has them judge a school's undergraduate program, using a scale from 1 to 5, with a "don't know" option.

Since the magazine began publishing the rankings in 1983, they have emerged as the most-read and powerful such listings in the country. Students devour them, colleges jockey to raise their position, alumni scream when they don't like what they see.

"People listen to the rankings," said Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley. But he added that the undergraduate rankings often "don't make much sense to me."

Even paychecks are affected: In March, the Arizona Board of Regents approved $150,000 in performance bonuses for Arizona State University President Michael Crow, with one goal -- that the school rise from its designation by U.S. News as a "third-tier" institution.

Through it all, the magazine revels in its most-widely-read edition each year.

"We take any criticism seriously," Editor Brian Kelly said. "But in this case, this is the usual suspects. These are the folks making these complaints for years. It's a small group."


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