Why US News may have to rethink college rankings

US News and World Report published his 2023 college rankings on Monday, and the results weren’t particularly surprising. Princeton University was No. 1, again; MIT was No. 2, down from tied at No. 2 last year with Harvard University, which fell to No. 3 for 2023, tied with Stanford University (which had summer No. 5 last year) and Yale University (No. 5 last year). Etc.

As my Post colleague Nick Anderson wrote, the release of the rankings comes with new complaints about the methodology, as well as a growing number of competitors who rate schools with different criteria than US News. The 2023 list came out just months after US News knocked Columbia University out of its No. 2 ranking among national universities after the accuracy of its data came into question.

US News college ranking draws new complaints and competitors

US News uses in its calculations the results of a survey of higher education officials asked about their views on the reputation of schools. Anderson said the response rate is now 34%. A full 20 percent of a school’s “reputation” factors into its ranking.

The magazine uses as a ranking tool what are called the Carnegie Classifications, the nation’s leading framework for describing the work and impact that higher education institutions have relative to each other.

Now the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the American Council on Education are working to revise the Carnegie Classifications and will include a new category that measures the impact of institutions on students’ social and economic opportunities. This could affect US News for years to come — and help those interested in higher education better understand the thousands of colleges and universities across the country.

This piece explains what the classifications are and how they will change. It was written by Timothy FC Knowles, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Ted Mitchellpresident of the American Council on Education.

Harvard misses this university ranking

By Timothy FC Knowles and Ted Mitchell

Millions of Americans, from current and prospective college students to proud alumni and business leaders, are undoubtedly diving into the new 2023 US News “Best Colleges” rankings released Monday. Unfortunately, they view their institutions and higher education as a whole through the wrong lens.

These types of college ranking systems oversimplify and distort the value of a higher education degree, placing a premium on perceived prestige and reputation at the expense of students, institutions, and our society.

There are nearly 4,000 institutions of higher learning throughout the country – community colleges and liberal arts colleges, major national research universities and comprehensive public regional universities, faith-based and minority-serving institutions. They all have unique missions, and they all have the potential to improve a student’s life prospects just as much as the top-ranked schools in the US News rankings.

There’s a better way to see the diverse landscape of American higher education and the colleges and universities that serve our students and our nation.

Our organizations, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the American Council on Educationwork together to reinvent Carnegie Ratingswhich were first published in 1973 and provide the primary framework for describing – not classifying – all institutions so that their work and impact can be understood in relation to each other.

Current Carnegie Classifications organize institutions according to the number and types of degrees that institutions confer, providing an overview of the higher education landscape that is published every three years. As a result, the establishments are grouped into categories such as doctoral universities with very strong research activity, baccalaureate colleges for arts and sciences, associated colleges for various purposes of students in transfer and technical training, and establishments for specific purposes such as those for the health professions.

Why single metrics for evaluating schools must go

US News uses the Carnegie Classifications as the authoritative organization for its rankings. But not only do we disagree with the overall methodology they and other rankings use, but we aim to update and reinvigorate the rankings, including producing a category that measures institutions’ impact on students’ social and economic opportunities. When that happens, US News will no longer be able to use the same old tools as the basis for its ranking.

Too many students, parents, policymakers, and the general public view higher education through a narrow lens, largely because of the way US News and other rankings celebrate prestige and selectivity. But the “top-ranked” institutions serve only a small fraction of the 25.5 million students currently attending US colleges and universities during the academic year. For example, only about 1.4 million students attend US News’ top 50 public and private universities.

US News changed the way it ranks colleges in 2018. It’s still ridiculous.

In contrast, over 7 million students attend community colleges and over 11 million attend regional public universities, federal data shows. These and other institutions that serve the widest range of students have the greatest opportunity to positively impact their future economic potential and, therefore, the social and economic well-being of our country. They may not be considered “elite” by the kind of metrics used by US News and other rankings, but they do elite work every day on behalf of their students, and we can and we have to learn from them.

By reinventing the Carnegie Classifications, we strive to change the direction of how the public perceives and receives information about higher education. Rather than focusing on measures of elitism such as selectivity, reputation and alumni donations, we will recognize and celebrate institutions that do the best job on measures such as economic and social mobility and other essential student outcomes.

We won’t publish a ranked list, but we will rate institutions on things that really matter to our nation and its public good, as well as students and their families – things like improving access to college. , retention and graduation, and support in obtaining employment and debt management. We want to change the national conversation about higher education and its value to redefine what constitutes an “elite” college or university in a broader and more meaningful way.

The new Carnegie Classifications will examine how well all of our colleges and universities meet their public purpose in several ways. In doing so, we will reflect and address the various missions and ways of serving the public good of institutions. We will always have classifications that categorize institutions according to the types of degrees they offer, whether it is a research-oriented doctoral institution or a baccalaureate college focused on arts and sciences. But too many institutions strive to obtain Research 1 “status”, even if it does not correspond to their missions.

US News currently uses the base classification to help decide how to create its separate rankings – national universities, regional colleges, etc.). Although US News now has a social mobility factor, the new classification will likely be more sophisticated. These and other changes could require US News to rethink its use of ratings, which could impact results.

This next iteration of the Carnegie Classifications, under construction and scheduled for release in 2024, will recognize the wide range of schools that are doing great work in driving student success and encouraging a wider range of institutional excellence. Our overarching goal is to help ensure that postsecondary education in the United States remains an engine of economic opportunity for all and that the American postsecondary sector continues to be the envy of the world.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said it well earlier this year when we announced our collaboration around Carnegie Classifications: “Colleges and universities must reinvent themselves around inclusiveness and student achievement. students, not selectivity and reputation,” he said, adding that he hopes the announcement of the new classifications “will be the start of a new competition between colleges – one that rewards colleges doing the most for upward mobility”.

Norma A. Roth