On November 16, 2022, a quiet revolt began among institutions of higher education in this country. Most of us probably aren’t aware of this fact as this was also the day that Kevin McCarthy became the current Speaker of the House and Donald Trump announced his Republican candidacy for President in 2024.
Yet, on this date, the Dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, pulled out of the US News ranking system, stating: “The US News rankings are inherently flawed.” Since then, more than 40 top law schools and 12 prestigious medical schools have ended their relationship with US News.
At the undergraduate level, so far only three undergraduate colleges, Colorado College, Bard College and Rhode Island School of Design have joined Reed College in leaving this ranking system. It is expected, however, that more undergraduate schools will follow.
So, why are these well-known, prestigious institutions leaving a 40-year-old system that has been described as “the most influential ranking system in the country”?
Understanding the move away from US News requires understanding what the ranking system does and how it affects students.
Even though you might not be aware of the changes happening in the ranking system, I believe it WILL have an impact soon in researching quality colleges and ensuring a “good return” on one of the most expensive investments you will ever make.
For years, college presidents and deans have raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the rankings. Digging deeper, the concern is about preferential treatment afforded to the wealthiest colleges and the promotion of practices that placed students from lower socioeconomic status at a disadvantage.
According to Dean Gerken, “The rankings disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession.” Following Yale’s lead, other schools have cited the flawed methodology and perverse incentives as their reason for abandoning the rankings. Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning shared that, “it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect.”
Some of this flawed methodology cited surrounds giving a weight of 20% to a school’s academic reputation and another 20% to surveys done of college peers versus single-digit percentages given to four-year graduation rates and graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients, who are students from homes with an annual income of less than $20,000.
The SAT and ACT results are also used in the US News ranking system, a practice that has its own set of flaws. According to research from the University of Minnesota, SAT and ACT results are both excellent predictors of a parent’s income, but little else in terms of predicting a kid’s potential success in college or life. And, yet most high school students are encouraged to still add these scores to their admission application.
According to one admissions counselor at U.C. Boulder, “If a student sends in an application packet without a test score, the perception among my staff is that they didn’t do well on the test and probably wouldn’t be a good fit for our school.”
The flaw here being that grades on a high school student’s transcript continue to be the single best predictor of college performance, not SAT or ACT scores, parent’s income levels or education levels.
What do you need to consider as you explore college in the wake of schools leaving the US News ranking system?
We live in a society that demands information fast and is always looking for a quick solution. In 1983, the US News Ranking system provided that need for educators, parents and students. At that time, you could look at a school’s ranking and consider that ranking to be directly related to the “value” of that school. This may not be as true today as it once was.
That said, we are a culture of rankings, where everything is reviewed, critiqued and ranked. So, as busy parents and students, what can you do to get the short-cuts to answers you need?
I believe the answer lies in becoming an informed consumer. As you explore colleges, consider taking these extra steps:
- Review the college’s website in detail
- Determine if any professional organizations have accredited the curriculum. For example, if your student is considering a major in engineering, check to see if engineering majors are ABET accredited at this school.
- Research the college, using not only their website but also several social media sites, such as Discord and Snapchat, to learn more about the college, the major(s) you are interested in, the school’s clubs, sports, groups, school spirit, social life, and anything else you are interested in.
- Schedule your all-important college visit. I equate the college visit to finding your first home. You wouldn’t purchase a home sight unseen. There might be too many problems you could miss, like faulty wiring in the bathroom. The same is true about college! Researching a school is important but in order to know that this is the university you want to attend, you must tour the campus, check out the cafeteria, maybe even talk to a professor.
Once you’ve done your research and visited the college, you’ll know more about what you want in a school and whether this university would be a great home for you for the next four years. It’s not as quick a solution as looking up the rankings, but you will KNOW that your methodology, your ranking system is not flawed. It’s perfect.
The US News ranking system hasn’t gone away yet. My hope is that the folks who created the ranking system start to listen to the inherent flaws that educators have been complaining about for over thirty years. This is the only way I see for it to stay a relevant tool and support for parents and students.
But, we’ll have to wait and see.
I believe it’s important for everyone to do their own research and avoid putting too much faith and trust in a ranking system that may fly in the face of your personal values. Isn’t that more important in the long run? The bottom line for you and your family is to research and visit. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, about what you really want, and find that school that will be just the right fit for you.
If you need some support for your high school student with the college search and admissions process, I can help. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-285-1920. I look forward to hearing from you.