US News college rankings disputed

By Daniel C. Houston
Staff Writer

The National Association for College Admission Counseling released a report this week calling into question the criteria used by U.S. News and World Report, a magazine widely known for its annual ranking of America’s best colleges.

The report cited NACAC members’ dissatisfaction with U.S. News’ emphasis on class rank and standardized test scores. The NACAC comprises 11,000 high school and college admissions counselors, David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for NACAC, said.

“I think when most people look at the rankings,” Hawkins said, “they assume that what they’re seeing is an evaluation of what the college or institution offers to the student. In other words, what they assume they’re seeing is the value that the institution adds [to a student’s education].”

In place of considering class rank and SAT scores, which reflect the academic ability of incoming students rather than the rigor of an institution’s programs, the report called for U.S. News to take into account “factors that measure student satisfaction and engagement,” although detailed explication of these factors was lacking.

The report also suggested diluting the influence of reputational surveys that allow presidents of institutions to rank those of their peers.

This year, U.S. News ranked Baylor as the 75th-best college in the country, matching its highest overall ranking since the list’s inception. Baylor announced earlier this month that this year’s freshman class had the highest SAT scores of any class in the university’s history.

Lori Fogleman, director of Baylor media relations, stressed the U.S. News rankings do not affect Baylor’s student recruitment process except insofar as they influence the decisions of parents and students.

“Parents are making an informed decision,” Fogleman wrote in an email to the Lariat, “and if students select Baylor as their college choice and they have the kind of experience that they expect and that they love and that helps them reach their full potential, then we’ve done our job.”

Robert Morse, data research director for U.S. News, said the magazine had no intention of changing its ranking criteria anytime soon when he spoke at the NACAC conference at which the report was presented, according to a Monday article in Inside Higher Ed.

Morse said these factors are relevant metrics for judging the quality of an institution because universities still weigh class rank and test scores so highly when recruiting students.

Because of this, Hawkins said NACAC will focus its efforts on educating its own member counselors so they can exert influence over parents and students as they search for the right college for them.

“I think the idea is just to keep the conversation going,” Hawkins said, “because I don’t think there’s much hope that a single report from a relatively small organization like ours will cause a multi-million dollar enterprise to change their brand overnight.”

U.S. News public relations did not respond to a request for an interview with Morse by Thursday’s deadline.