College rankings leave key questions unanswered

Lauren Williams's picture
Friday, September 13, 2013

In a market as large, diverse and complex as American higher education, it is no surprise that consumers demand information to help make order out of chaos. However, in order for such information to be truly useful, it has to mean what it purports to mean.

"Best Colleges" leaves one important question unanswered: "Best for whom?" While many colleges and universities are ranked, there are exponentially more students, each of whom may derive a different benefit from a different college. In other words, what is best for one student might not be best for another.

Two years ago, the National Association for College Admission Counseling convened a committee of high school counselors and college admission officers to consider some long-running questions about rankings. Both groups, particularly school counselors, hold rankings in low regard. But both also find that the U.S. News publication offers useful information, rankings not-withstanding. The committee emphasized two long-standing criticisms:

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