College rankings purport to tell the public which schools are worthwhile, even though many academics view the rankings as worthless.
The latest salvo in the battle between the ranked and the rankers comes out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon. A statistics professor and a group of students say, based on an statistical analysis, Reed College appears to be under-ranked compared to other schools on the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of "best colleges." The publication denies that claim and questions the accuracy of the group's work.
Though the two parties may not come to an agreement, the debate speaks to a broader conversation about the value of quantifying the college experience. Mainly, is there any?
In America, the U.S. News & World Report rankings are regarded as the gold standard. The publication's methodology usually changes annually, but it includes student retention and graduation rates, resources available to faculty, and the opinions of fellow college leaders and high school counselors. It also create snapshots of colleges that include cost, application deadlines and a school's history.
"Taken together, the rankings and profiles – combined with college visits, interviews and your own intuition – can be a powerful tool in your quest for the right college," the company's website reads.
Americans’ obsession with choosing the best product also informs the longevity of U.S. News college rankings, which began in 1983. They persist because choosing where to start a higher education career is confusing and there are hundreds of colleges, each promising a quality education. But when students can't figure out who is telling them the truth, a list of winners and losers can seem like a clarion through the noise.