It is amazing that more than two decades after U.S. News & World Report first published its special issue on “America’s Best Colleges,” and almost a decade since Shanghai Jiao Tong University first published the Academic Ranking of World Universities, rankings continue to dominate the attention of university leaders. Indeed, the range of people watching them now includes politicians, students, parents, businesses, and donors. Simply put, rankings have caught the imagination of the public and have insinuated their way into public discourse and almost every level of government. There are even iPhone applications to help individuals and colleges calculate their ranks.
More than 50 country-specific rankings and 10 global rankings are available today, including the European Union’s new U-Multirank, due this year. What started as small-scale, nationally focused guides for students and parents has become a global business that heavily influences higher education and has repercussions well beyond academe.