Problem with US University Rankings | This Week in Admissions News

24/02/20236 minute read
Problem with US University Rankings | This Week in Admissions News
The world of college admissions is ever-changing and for students with top university ambitions, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. This week, as universities continue to boycott the US News rankings system, the publisher has acquired admissions consulting service CollegeAdvisor.com. Check back next week to see what’s new and noteworthy in university admissions!

The Problem with US University Rankings

College rankings in the United States have a lot of problems. Despite the recent boycott, there are not many other publications’ rankings that have the influence of US News & World Report. USA Today pointed out recently that it is very difficult for students to independently acquire the data they would need to make certain decisions that US News provides. Most universities that have exited the rankings, urged students to use publicly available data. However, the problem is that universities do report flawed figures sometimes, making it harder for families to make their decisions. Further, a lot of the data is reported in a format that is hard for the average student to understand.

Some of the most comprehensive centralized data that’s already available is about law schools, collected and provided by the American Bar Association, or ABA, which accredits 199 of the nation’s schools of law. The Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, which accredits medical schools, also offers information about them in a resource it calls Medical School Admissions Requirements, or MSARs. Harvard’s dean, in his statement withdrawing from the rankings, referred people there. For undergraduate colleges and universities, the U.S. Department of Education has a website called College Scorecard that reports students’ average annual costs, after discounts and financial aid, along with typical student loan debt, median earnings 10 years after enrollment and other information that can be compared among schools.  

However, there are a lot of problems with most of these websites as well. A General Accounting Office investigation in November found that 91% of colleges and universities misrepresented their expected cost of attendance. A lot of data submitted by universities is never independently verified and thus, not always reliable. Many failing institutions are also part of these databases and continue to gain accreditation.

The US News rankings have taken a beating recently, with top institutions including Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School quitting and also a series of allegations that the publication uses false data for its listings. Rhode Island School of Design became one the first undergraduate programs to also boycott the rankings. US News have promised to reform law school rankings to counter some of the criticism. It remains to be seen whether other undergraduate programs will join RISD. 

Following the series of boycotts by top schools, US News & World Report has acquired CollegeAdvisor.com. The US News have always influenced students in their application decisions. With the acquisition, it seems the rankings giant is more firmly moving into the admissions consulting business.

“The CollegeAdvisor.com advising platform is directly aligned with our mission, providing students with a greater understanding of the opaque college admissions process and empowering them with the tools necessary for a successful college admissions journey,” said Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News. “This relationship is a win-win for students everywhere.” 

Critics of the college admissions system traced a direct line from the rankings’ struggles to the advising acquisition, Higher Ed Dive reported. “The move concentrates the commercialization of pre-college counseling in the hands of a company whose arbitrary judgements and questionable advice do not play a constructive role in the admissions process,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, which advocates for limited standardized testing and equitable admissions, said in a statement.

Other top stories in admissions news this week:

  1. In contrast to the previous year, college endowment returns for 2021-22 took a sharp dive, Inside Higher Ed has reported. According to a report by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, surging inflation and other disruptions are to blame for this downturn. The average return for all college endowments in fiscal 2022 was negative 8 percent, falling far short of the 30.6 percent overall average return in 2021. NACUBO also found that colleges increased their endowment spending, with dollars increasingly flowing toward institutional operating budgets, largely focused on student financial aid. 
  2. Gonville & Caius college at Cambridge has cut the number of private school admits from almost a half to a quarter, The Telegraph has reported. It is part of the new admissions policy under Dr. Chris Scot to emphasize academic potential over achievement. The college admitted just 55% of its cohort from the maintained sector – the lowest of any Cambridge college in 2019. In 2021, that figure increased to 75% – a fair margin above the University average, and an astounding increase of 20 percentage points in just one year. Figures released by Caius for 2022 and 2023 indicate that that increase has been maintained.
  3. Caltech earned the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Midsize Employers 2023. To compile the list, Forbes partnered with the market research firm Statista to survey about 45,000 workers at American companies and institutions with 1,000 to 5,000 employees. Participants were asked if they would recommend their current employers to friends and family (on a scale of 0 to 10) and to cite any other employer they would also recommend. Caltech was one of many universities high on the list, including Cleveland State (No. 10) and Syracuse (No. 29).
  4. As the first set of international students get ready to take the digital SAT, many academics and universities are hailing the change that will make university admissions fairer, Times Higher Education has reported. Cesar Wazen, director of the international affairs office at Qatar University, says the digital SAT will remove certain hurdles for international students, like shipping logistics and a more robust format that prevents cheating. Also the content is now more relevant globally.
  5. Master’s graduates from some of China’s elite universities are still not going on to study abroad at the same rate as they were before the pandemic, Times Higher Education has reported. The findings indicate that a downward trend that began even before the pandemic of Chinese students opting to stay at home for further study has not reversed despite Covid-era restrictions lifting across the world. “The motivations of Chinese students to go abroad for master’s and doctoral studies vary widely,” said Shen Wenqin, associate professor of higher education at Peking University’s  Graduate School of Education.
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