First, Inside Higher Ed reported that US News will be expanding their web ranking web site to include information about distance education and adult continuing education. Since these are growing areas of higher education this move makes sense. However, US News will also be working with a third party to sell to colleges the names of prospective students. So what you ask?
One of the criteria set by US News in their rankings is the selectivity of a college. So the more students a college says no to the higher the US News ranking. And now US News is offering to sell colleges more names which presumably a college can use to generate more applications to reject more students. Conflict, anyone?
And there is also the question of whether a college might get an inside bump in their ranking score if they buy lists of students from US News. Whose to know. US News claims they are doing this to serve the student and “in the process make money.” Now there is nothing wrong with US News making money. But don’t suggest that this is really about helping students.
The second story aired this week, comes from the Gainsville, Florida newspaper. For those of you who are not familiar with how US News ranks colleges, 25% of a colleges rankings is based on what is known as peer assessment. To determine peer assessment US News asks top academics including college presidents, provosts and deans of admission, to rank peer schools.
The newspaper used a public record request to get the peer assessment ranking from the president of the University of Florida. The president rated the University of Florida at the top of the rankings along with Harvard, Princeton and Yale. But when rating other Florida universities the president rated those colleges much lower.
There is nothing wrong with the president of a university thinking he or she has a great college. But it appears that the president was completing the assessment in a way to skew the results most toward his own college. Is he alone is doing this? Of course not. But that is one of the many reasons why the US News rankings are suspect.
Several weeks ago I commented on the efforts of Clemson University to manipulate the rankings. As more and more of the actions of the colleges are disclosed, the rankings lose whatever believability they may have had. Rankings that can be manipulated, will be manipulated, and the US News college rankings are evidence of that point.