Rankings and Reputation

There are several college and university rankings guides published, and they include the U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Monthly, Business Insider, Money Magazine, and Forbes "America's Top Colleges" ranking,as well as a variety of other groups and organizations that publish rankings based on different factors and using different methodology. For a more comprehensive and detailed look at U.S. university rankings, with top-ranked schools identified, see Rankings of universities in the United States.

Rankings have been the subject of much criticism. Since much of the data is provided by colleges themselves, there are opportunities for schools to manipulate the rankings to enhance prestige. There have been instances in which school officials deliberately misreported statistics, such as an admissions dean at Claremont McKenna who falsified average SAT statistics, and a report that Emory University falsely reported student data for "more than a decade," as well as reports of false data from the United States Naval Academy and Baylor University.Writer Andrew Ferguson noted considerable hypocrisy surrounding rankings: some colleges pretend to loathe the guidebooks that rank them, yet if they get a good write-up, they "wave it around like a bride's garter belt." Lynn O'Shaughnessy criticized the "mindless pursuit of better numbers" by colleges to boost their college rankings as destructive and wrote that families place too much emphasis on the rankings as a way to select colleges. Further, she criticized the US News rankings for failing to take a college's affordability into account or factor in the average student indebtedness after college as well as failing to measure how well colleges actually educated their students. She noted how the US News algorithm "favors schools that spurn more students." College admissions counselors criticized rankings as misleading, and criticized the rankings inputs of peer assessments, student selectivity and alumni giving as being poor predictors of a college's overall quality. The rankings title "America's Best Colleges", prompted counselors to ask "best for whom"?

In 2007, members of the Annapolis Group discussed a letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the US News "reputation survey". A majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting agreed not to participate, although the statements were not binding. Members pledged to develop alternative web-based information formats in conjunction with several collegiate associations.US News responded that their peer assessment survey helps them measure a college's "intangibles" such as the ability of a college's reputation to help a graduate win a first job or entrance into graduate school. An article by Nicholas Thompson in Washington Monthly criticized the U.S. News rankings as "confirming the prejudices of the meritocracy" by tuning their statistical algorithms to entrench the reputations of a handful of schools, while failing to measure how much students learn. Thompson described the algorithms as being "opaque enough that no one outside the magazine can figure out exactly how they work, yet clear enough to imply legitimacy."