Phi Beta Cons

U.S. News and Conjecture

Sunday’s Washington Post featured a great piece by the President of Sarah Lawrence, Michele Tolela Myers, on considerable, er, irregularities in the U.S. News rankings.

U.S. News benefits from our appetite for shortcuts, sound bites and top-10 lists. The magazine has parlayed the appearance of unbiased measurements into a profitable bottom line.

Turns out that some of their numbers are made up. I know that firsthand. Two years ago, we at Sarah Lawrence College decided to stop using SAT scores in our admission process.

How did U.S. News adapt? Myers goes on.

I was recently informed by the director of data research at U.S. News, the person at the magazine who has a lot to say about how the rankings are computed, that absent students’ SAT scores, the magazine will calculate the college’s ranking by assuming an arbitrary average SAT score of one standard deviation (roughly 200 points) below the average score of our peer group.

In other words, in the absence of real data, they will make up a number. He made clear to me that he believes that schools that do not use SAT scores in their admission process are admitting less capable students and therefore should lose points on their selectivity index.

Fair, right! Read the full piece, a much-needed reminder that the proper classification for increasing portions of the U.S. News list is not Sacred Text but Literature.

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