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Why New ‘U.S. News’ Rankings Are Flawed

By Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier:

It has become an annual ritual: U.S. News & World Report releases its controversial “Best Colleges” rankings. Universities that do well in the rankings celebrate; those that don’t are left to grumble among themselves. Given the role the rankings play in the decision-making of college-bound students, most universities have opted to simply shrug and play along and use the rankings to their advantage when they can.

But this year, universities should seriously examine our role in a process that misleads students and families.

All college rankings are problematic. But for several years, U.S. News has adopted increasingly questionable practices for gathering and interpreting its data, which have prompted some universities and professional schools to stop participating in the process altogether. With the version released Sept. 18, U.S. News’s rankings process has gone from bad to worse.

What U.S. News calls “the most significant methodological change in the rankings’ history” has rocketed some institutions up the list and sent others sliding down. Many colleges had seismic shifts in their purported positions on the list. Vanderbilt, the university I oversee, moved from a tie for 13th to a tie for 18th, a fairly modest change. An analysis by our institutional research team found that 107 institutions—25 percent of those included in the “National Universities” ranking—moved 30 places or more.

Does this mean those of us who’ve fallen in the rankings are objectively worse than we were a year ago? Does it mean a university that shot up the list is suddenly orders of magnitude better? Of course not. The shifts in rankings are largely due to the changes in methodology. And U.S. News’s ever-changing methodology—what to count and how much weight to give it—is a subjective exercise that bears little relationship to the mission of our institutions.

The goal of research universities like ours is to provide a transformative education and path-breaking research. To do that, we work hard to attract the most promising students and faculty and to create a collaborative university community where everyone can realize their full potential.

Read the rest of the article in Inside Higher Ed.