U.S. News Tweaks Its College Rankings Methods

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The U.S. News & World Report found itself in the middle of various controversies over colleges submitting fudged — or just outright false — data over the past year, but rather than engaging in any soul-searching about how our national obsession with college rankings has maybe gone a teeny bit too far, the publication has decided to go the other way. They’re collecting even more data for the 2013 rankings.
U.S. News added questions about internet connectivity and technology to its surveys, an addition that makes sense in our excessively wired world. How are colleges using new technologies to stay engaged with their students? Is there technology in the classroom? (We have a feeling that Johns Hopkins, with its sophisticated and thorough online presence, will be getting a boost from this area of inquiry.)

More interesting, though, are new questions that take a closer look at graduation rates. While U.S. News has always published data on the number of students starting at each school who go on to get degrees, this new data will also look at the graduation rates of students who received Pell grants (a good marker for low-income populations), Stafford loans, and neither. Sorting through these numbers will show if colleges are “successful in serving students from different income levels,” according to U.S. News.

But while the magazine is going to compile this information, it’s not planning to include it in its rankings algorithm — or not just yet, at least. Still, the trend toward paying more attention to data about financial aid, graduation rates by income, and the net price of college mean that the survey is starting to pay more attention to affordability and equitable treatment, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps they’re feeling the influence of Malcolm Gladwell, who has persuasively argued that price should be considered a factor in any ranking system.



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