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College Notebook: This year’s rankings

Published: September 12, 2014
Section: News


It is that time of year again—college rankings have been released. The U.S. News rankings of national universities is topped this year by Princeton University. Rounding out the top three are Harvard University and Yale University.

Brandeis University made the list, tying for 35th with Georgia Institute of Technology. Between 2000-2013, Brandeis’ rankings were consistently between 31st and 34th. U.S. News rankings are becoming the most important tool for students looking at colleges.

Most experts argue that college rankings are not everything. There are many questions about the reasoning and methods behind such lists. Of its methodology, U.S. News says on its website that, “We gather data from each college on up to 16 indicators of academic excellence. Each factor is assigned a weight that reflects our judgment about how much a measure matters.”

Forbes Magazine recently said of the rankings that, “The widely acknowledged problem is that those measures often have everything to do with who colleges admit and less to do with what colleges actually teach them while they’re there. The algorithm has changed somewhat over the years, but above all, these rankings are about prestige and selectivity.”

What ends up happening at colleges and universities, in order to improve rankings, is that more money goes to creating better facilities, acceptance rates are lowered and SAT standards are raised. At Brandeis University’s own convocation for the class of 2018, it was noted that they were selected from the largest pool of applicants yet.

Raising tuition is one way that universities manage to convince students into believing that an institution is elite. The “Chivas Regal Effect” is when universities raise tuition and, rather than losing applicants, they gain them. The term is named for a whiskey company that allegedly used the same strategy. The effect is based on the assumption that consumers (here: students) believe that “you get what you pay for.”

This type of marketing is actually successful in many cases. Not only does it attract more applicants, but it seems to have an effect on rankings, too. Forbes noted that George Washington University recently hiked up tuition, built better dorms and lowered acceptance rates. This year, GWU was ranked 54th of the national universities after being unranked in 2012 for misreporting statistics to U.S. News. This is only three spots down from the university’s rank of 51st, which was based on the incorrect data.

The New York Times also released a rankings list this week: The Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges. The list was calculated using any four-year college that had a graduation rate of over 75 percent in 2012. Out of over 3,000 four-year institutions in the entire country, only 98 of them fit that criteria. On this list, Brandeis University ranked 25th.

In 1983, the first year that U.S. News released college rankings, the top schools were Stanford, Harvard and Yale. While the winds have not changed much in the past 31 years, the U.S. News rankings remain more important than ever.

Despite the numbers, Bob Morse, the chief data strategist at U.S. World News, who built the rankings to what they are today, had some advice for students. He told The Washington Post, “It’s not where you went to school, it’s how hard you work.”