Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2007

Colleges wrestle with using rankings

August 16, 2007


U.S. News & World Report releases its annual college rankings Friday in the face of the loudest criticism from educators the magazine has ever encountered.

But for all the complaints that the rankings warp college admissions and distract schools from educating students, U.S. News still has the upper hand. Colleges are having a hard time quitting the annual beauty contest.

Sixty-two colleges have enlisted in an anti-rankings campaign led by education activist Lloyd Thacker. But a quick Web search shows even some of those schools haven't fulfilled a pledge to stop using their rankings to advertise themselves. And none of the highest-ranked schools has formally signed on.

Educators say they are irked to see colleges ranked like basketball teams. But it irks educators at the top-ranked colleges a lot less.

"The list isn't perfect but it isn't totally evil either," said David Oxtoby, the president of Pomona College in California, the No. 7 liberal arts college on last year's list. The popular rankings are a way for students and parents to get information, he said, and most know better than to take a college's ranking too seriously.

Rankings seem to matter at Kansas University. When Chancellor Robert Hemenway arrived at KU, he declared a goal of being ranked among the top 25 public universities. So far, that hasn't happened. KU ranked 39th among public research universities last year, up from 45th, which was its worst ranking, the year before. The highest ranking it received was 30th in 1998.

The debate has been raging since U.S. News began ranking colleges in the 1980s. The focus this year is on Thacker, a longtime admissions counselor seeking to restore educational values to what he calls an over-commercialized college selection process.

So far no liberal arts colleges ranked higher than No. 30 on last year's list has signed on to Thacker's cause, nor has any of the top 100 universities.

KU sends out a press release on its U.S. News ranking and touts its status among the "Best Buys," as ranked by the Fiske Guide to Colleges.

"Our first obligation is to our community here - the students, the parents, taxpayers, the people of the state of Kansas - not to U.S. News and to relative rankings," said KU Provost Richard Lariviere.

- Journal-World Reporter Jonathan Kealing contributed information to this story.


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