U.S. News Rankings Focus Too Much on Inputs, Not Enough on Results

by Anne D. Neal

The U.S. News and World Report college rankings have finally arrived. But while college administrators fret over their institutions’ ranking and parents, students, and alumni scan the list to see if they’ve earned bragging rights, the rest of us need to ask what these rankings are really worth.

Despite modest tweaks to their system, the U.S. News rankings focus heavily on “input” measures like selectivity, faculty resources, and academic reputation. At a time of skyrocketing tuition and embarrassingly high youth un-employment and under-employment, this emphasis is terribly misplaced.

As several experts have argued, the obsession with inputs actually drives up college costs by encouraging schools to boost their reputations with expensive and inefficient projects such as new facilities and fancy dorm rooms.

Instead of asking how well college students did in high school or what peer institutions think of each other, we should be asking how much students are actually learning while they are in college. That’s what new tests like the CLA+ measure and what ACTA’s What Will They Learn project uses to evaluate schools. If U.S. News doesn’t change course, they may fall by the wayside.

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