Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do Your Get Your College Advice From US News? Think Again

By Patrick O'Conner PhD

The long-time feud between high school counselors and US News and World Report took a new turn last week with the release of a survey measuring the value of the annual college rankingsproduced by US News.

Since the early 1980s, US News has produced ranked lists of what it considers the best colleges in the world, the US, and regions with the country.  School counselors have questioned the value of these rankings from the beginning, finding fault with just how US News compares colleges, and claiming the rankings confuse students and parents more than help them, since the college needs of each student are different.

Thanks to a new survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), counselors had an opportunity to turn the tables.  When asked to rate the rankings on a scale of 1 (low) to 100 (high), school counselors gave the rankings an average score of 29.  When asked about the rankings, counselors found fault with everything from the name of the publication (“Americas Best Colleges” suggest one kind of college is best for all students) to the factors used in the rankings.

These factors include the number of applications a college receives (the higher the better), the percentage of students admitted (the lower the better), and the prestige the college is given by other college presidents.  Since US News rewards colleges for having more applicants *and* for *rejecting* more applicants, counselors claim some colleges are encouraging more students to apply, even though the college knows the student’s qualifications are unlikely to lead to an offer of admission.

Reporters and other observers feel counselors are envious of the power of the rankings—but the results of the NACAC survey indicate otherwise.  Another part of the survey asked admissions officers at colleges to rank the US News Report, and the average score given by college personnel was a 39—better than what the high school counselors gave, but still a failing grade.

The results suggest many college officers understand they have to improve their rank because US News rankings are widely read, yet they feel the rankings don’t have any real value for parents or students in the college selection process.

The survey strikes a final blow to US News by asking college admission personnel if they believe colleges do things to improve their rank that are “counterproductive”.  90 percent responded by saying colleges make changes designed to hold or improve their rankings, but only 46 percent believe these changes occur in the classroom.

This finding suggests colleges are doing things to look better in the rankings that, in the end, don’t improve the quality of education for students. Many of these strategies require the investment of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing programs—money that comes from tuition increases, or money that could have gone to strengthen instruction or improve financial aid offers.

It’s too early to tell just how the results will impact college recruiting efforts, but the survey comes along just in time for high school counselors to tell parents, with authority, that high school *and* college personnel think the US News rankings are of little if any help when it comes to choosing a college.

More than just saving parents the cost of the magazine, this message tells college-bound families to invest their understanding of the college selection process in more reliable, individualized resources, including the advice of a trained high school counselor who knows the student’s needs. That may be the biggest pot of gold at any rainbow in this rain-soaked spring.

The survey is at

1 comment:

  1. I just stumbled upon your blog. I like it. I am a high school counselor in the Western New York area. I added you to my Google reader, I look forward to your future articles (and reading some of the old ones too).