U.S. News and World Report recently published its inaugural list of national colleges and universities that are overperforming or underperforming in comparison to their academic reputation.
Scores for each school were tabulated using the differences between the U.S. News National Universities rank and academic peer assessment rankings. The new ranking is said to measure the degree to which a university’s ranking surpasses or falls short of its academic reputation.
“If a school is doing better in the overall ranking than in its undergraduate academic reputation, it means the school is performing relatively well in the other key academic indicators used in the rankings,” the report reads. “On the other hand, if a school’s academic reputation ranking is better than its overall ranking, it means that the school’s performance in the key academic factors used by U.S. News is not keeping pace with its academic reputation.”
Both lists contain 15 schools. Only schools that were ranked in the National Universities category of U.S. News’ Best Colleges 2013 were included. All of the schools on both lists are private, with the exception of South Carolina State University.
But do the results of the list actually matter? Opinions are mixed among current college students.
Karolyn Castaldo, an English and creative writing student at the University of Denver, said the U.S. News rankings are important when applying to college.
“Rankings such as U.S. News and World Report helped to lay out the options,” she said. “I used these ranking to narrow down which had the best academic reputations for my major and best resources. It grounded a subjective desire to attend a school based on an admission’s office push.”
A junior at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Samantha Smoak holds the opposite opinion.
“I looked at college rankings, but I can’t say I took them seriously at all,” Smoak said. “I really only looked at them because I had a few friends that were.”
Earlier this year, George Washington University was discovered to have significantly inflated admissions data for the 2013 U.S. News rankings. The school is now “unranked” in the report.
In a statement, the university’s president, Steven Knapp, apologized and said the university reported the incorrect data as to maintain its integrity as an organization.
“We did so without regard to any possible action U.S. News might take as a result,” Knapp added. “We were surprised by the decision of U.S. News to remove George Washington’s numerical ranking rather than to correct it in light of our disclosure.”
Other universities have also admitted to intentionally manipulating their ratings — including Claremont McKenna College and Emory University. When notified, U.S. News did not alter the ratings in their report.
U.S. News reported that the new lists of underperforming and overperforming schools are a way to fix these issues.
“[These rankings] could mean that the school’s undergraduate academic reputation is benefitting from a much higher reputation held by its various graduate schools,” the report reads. “It also means that a school’s undergraduate reputation among its academic peers is lagging behind the progress the school has achieved in the underlying academic indicators.”
Although she relied on college rankings to make her final decision, Castaldo found that rankings did not provide her a complete look as to what life at her choice university would be like.
“Obviously, these reports couldn’t replace actually going and seeing the school,” she said. “Students who are looking for a top-of-the-line school do not want to be disappointed because they didn’t learn all that they could about it.”
Castaldo went on to discuss how other college ranking systems, like that of College Prowler, were very beneficial during her college search, as they rank the lifestyle and environments of the college, not just the academics.
Ultimately, she said, it depends on what a student is looking for in a school.
“I would rather see lists that compiled a list of best colleges by major or field,” Smoak added. “What was most important to me when I was choosing a college is finding the program I want and the school that is the best fit for me.”
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