Rebellion Over U.S. News Rankings Seems Likely To Fail

Wall Street Journal:

Harvard, Stanford and Columbia universities, the University of Pennsylvania and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said they would stop cooperatingwith U.S. News & World Report’s medical-school rankings.

That followed the decision last year by universities including YaleGeorgetownHarvardStanfordColumbiaand California, Berkeley to quit cooperating on the publication’s law-school rankings.

Critics are cheering the exodus from a process they say leads students to focus on external prestige rather than education quality and encourages schools to game rankings at the expense of students. The schools that are withdrawing say the rankings are elitist, and penalize institutions that admit strong candidates without high test scores.

“In the 40 years of rankings, this is the biggest shock to the system—that gives me hope,” said Colin Diver, a former president of Reed College, which has long abstained from the U.S. News ranking. Mr. Diver is the author of “Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do About It.”

But hopes that this marks the death knell for college rankings are likely to be in vain. The reality is that what the schools themselves contribute to the rankings is relatively small: The data includes test scores, alumni giving, financial information and so on. But most of the data used to determine the rankings can be derived from publicly available information, or surveys conducted by U.S. News itself. Indeed, U.S. News has revised the survey over the years in response to criticism. There is a case to be made that the less the schools contribute, the more objective the rankings might become, in some respects. …