Arlington VA — The annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges and universities generate negative opinions among professionals who work most closely with students and families, according to a survey released recently by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Among their concerns are that some institutions may be 'gaming' the system.

While college admission counselors found helpful information surrounding the rankings, the central purpose of the undergraduate rankings appears to create as many challenges as it solves.

“For college admission counselors, college rankings are a fact of life,” noted Pete Caruso, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Boston College and chair of the NACAC Ad Hoc Committee on US News & World Report Rankings. “Professionals in our field have consistent and long-standing concerns about rankings. Educating fellow professionals, students and families about properly incorporating information provided through rankings into a college search process is increasingly important.”

Concerns raised by college admission counselors include:

  • The rankings’ title, “America’s Best Colleges,” is not an accurate representation of the information provided by the rankings. Many college admission counselors posed the question, “Best for whom?,” reflecting the widely-held belief that an ordinal ranking omits important information for consumers, and perpetuates a misperception that the rankings constitute an objective assessment of college quality.
  • The methodology behind the rankings is problematic. A majority of college admission counselors believe that several core elements of the U.S. News rankings are either “poor” or “not at all” predictors of college quality, including peer assessments, student selectivity, and alumni giving. A majority of college admission counselors believe that other core elements, including graduation/retention rates, faculty resources, financial resources, and graduate rate performance are “fair” or “good” indicators of college quality.
  • College admission officers believe rankings encourage counter-productive behavior among colleges, though they are less likely to believe that such behavior takes place on their campus. "Respondents' beliefs that institutions are 'gaming' the rankings generally seems to apply to other colleges," the report says, "whereas they are less likely to perceive their own institution as manipulating the process."
  • On a scale of 1 (strenuously object to rankings) to 100 (strongly support the rankings), high school counselors rated the rankings a 29, while college admission officers rated the rankings a 39, indicating strong negative opinions in both areas of the profession.

The full survey results are available here. NACAC’s Ad Hoc Committee on U.S. News & World Report Rankings will issue recommendations to the NACAC Board of Directors in the Fall based on this and other research conducted by the committee.

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