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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 10, no. 16 (March 20, 2002).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c March 20, 2002
Quantifying quality : what can the U.S. news and world report rankings tell us about the quality of higher education? / marguerite Clarke.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
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1 of 20 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 10 Number 16March 20, 2002ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2001, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .Quantifying Quality: What Can the U.S. News and World Report Rankings Tell us About the Quality of Higher Educat ion? Marguerite Clarke Boston CollegeCitation: Clarke, M. (2002, March 20). Quantifying Quality: What can the U.S. News and World Report rankings tell us about the quality of higher educa tion? Education Policy Analysis Archives 10 (16). Retrieved [date] from http://epaa.asu.edu/epa a/v10n16/.Abstract Since their first appearance in 1983, the U.S. News and World Report rankings of colleges and graduate schools have gene rated much discussion and debate, from some declaring them amo ng the best rankings ever published to others describing them a s shallow, inaccurate, and even dangerous. The research presented here add resses two of the most common criticisms of the methodology used to p roduce these rankings. In particular, this study answers the fol lowing questions: What is the extent of change in U.S. News' ranking formulas across years and what are the implications for interpreting shifts i n a school's rank over time? How precise is the overall score that U.S. News uses to rank schools and what are the implications for assigning schools to discrete ranks? Findings confirm critic's concerns in each o f these areas, particularly in relation to the ranking of graduate schools of education.
2 of 20Based on these results, five recommendations are ma de for improving the interpretability and usefulness of the rankings IntroductionEvery year, U.S. News and World Report's ( U.S. News ) rankings of the academic quality of colleges and graduate schools hit the newsstands (Note 1) Their arrival brings delight to some and dismay to others, depending on whether their institution r ose or fell in the quality ratings. An improved ranking can lead to increased donations from proud alumni and more and better qualified students in next year's applicant pool (Monks and Enhrenberg 1999). A fall can lead to tighter alignment of institutional benchmarks and goals with ranking cri teria and pressure on admissions staff to bring in "better" applicants (Mufson, 1999). All the while, a question goes unanswered: What do these rankings really tell us about the quality of higher education? As a step toward answering this question, I examine two common criticisms of the methodology that U.S. News uses to rank colleges and graduate schools. These are: (1) constant changes to the formula make it impossible to interpret yearly shif ts in a school's rank in terms of change in its relative academic quality (Levin, 1999; Pellegrini, 1999), and (2) the score used to assign schools to ranks is overly precise, creating a vertical column where a group might more properly exist (Machung, 1998; Smetanka, 1998). The first section of this article gives a brief introduction to the U.S. News rankings as well as the questions addressed by thi s study. The next section outlines the methodology used to answer these questions and the results of the analyses. The final section presents conclusions and recommendations.Before proceeding, a caveat is in order. While many have questioned the overall concept of academic quality rankings as well as the validity o f the different indicators and weights used, I suspend judgment on these issues to focus on the ex tent to which methodological problems may impact the interpretation of the U.S. News rankings.Background on the U.S. News RankingsU.S. News published its first rankings of the academic quali ty of colleges in 1983, the same year that the National Commission on Excellence in Educa tion released A Nation at Risk, its influential report blasting the quality of education in America Based on a survey of college presidents, the magazine listed Stanford, Harvard, and Yale as the top three national universities and Amherst, Swarthmore, and Williams as the top three national liberal arts colleges. By 1987, U.S. News had moved to a multidimensional approach, weighting and combining information on faculty accomplishments, student achievements, and institut ional academic resources to produce an overall score on which to rank colleges. Rankings of gradua te schools of business, engineering, law, and medicine/primary-care also appeared in this year an d used a similar weight-and-sum approach (rankings of graduate schools of education did not appear until 1994). The most recent rankings still use this basic appro ach. At the undergraduate level, schools are categorized by mission and region (e.g., national u niversities, national liberal arts colleges, region al universities, and regional liberal arts colleges). Up to sixteen pieces of information are collected o n schools in each category, including academic reputa tion; freshmen retention and graduation rates; average test scores for entering students; per-stud ent spending; and alumni-giving rate. These indicators are standardized, weighted, and summed t o produce an overall score on which to rank
3 of 20schools in each category against their peers.At the graduate level, schools are categorized by t ypeÂ—business, education, engineering, law, and medicine/primary-care. Depending on the type of sch ool, data on up to fourteen indicatorsÂ—including test scores, research expendit ures, graduate employment rates, and reputationÂ—are collected. Similar to the undergradu ate rankings, the indicators are standardized, weighted, and summed to produce an overall score on which to rank schools in each category against their peers. Detailed information on the in dicators and methodology that U.S. News uses to rank colleges and graduate schools is found in Appe ndix A. (Note 2) Criticisms of the U.S. News RankingsAlmost two decades after their first publication, t he college and graduate school rankings are among U.S. News' top issues in terms of sales generated (K. Crocker personal communication, March 19, 1999). This demand has made them the focu s of much criticism and debate, especially among the institutions that are the subject of the rankings. In addition to questioning the overall concept of ranking higher education institutions, m uch criticism has focused on the methodology used to produce the rankings. Gerhard Casper, then President of Stanford University, focused on some of these methodological concerns in a letter o f protest he wrote to the editor of U.S. News in 1996: Could there not, though, at least be a move toward greater honesty with, and service to, your readers by moving away from the false precisio n? Could you not do away with rank ordering and overall scores, thus admitting th at the method is not nearly that precise and that the difference between #1 and #2 indeed, between #1 and #10 may be statistically insignificant? Could you not, inst ead of tinkering to "perfect" the weightings and formulas, question the basic premise ? Could you not admit that quality may not be truly quantifiable, and that some of the data you use are not even truly available (e.g., many high schools do not report wh ether their graduates are in the top 10% of their class)? Parents are confused and looki ng for guidance on the best choice for their particular child and the best investment of their hard-earned money. Your demonstrated record gives me hope that you can begi n to lead the way away from football-ranking mentality and toward helping to in form, rather than mislead, your readers. (Note 3) Casper's questions about the "football ranking ment ality" employed by U.S. News go to the heart of the debate over college and graduate school ranking s. If, as Casper states, "the difference between #1 and #2 indeed, between #1 and #10 may be sta tistically insignificant," what are the implications for the way in which the overall score s for schools are used to put them in rank order? In addition, if the weights and formula are constan tly being "tinkered" with, how should one then interpret change in a school's rank from year to ye ar? Others have voiced these methodological concerns. I n particular, critics have noted that yearly formula changes make it almost impossible to interp ret shifts in a school's rank in terms of change in its relative academic quality: a college that is ranked 4th one year and 7th the next may have had no change in its performance relative to other scho ols, yet still have moved because of changes in the ranking methodology (Levin, 1999; Machung, 1998 ; Pellegrini, 1999). U.S. News' response to this issue has been that they prefer to make increm ental changes every year to produce the "best possible rankings" than to use the same indicators every year to facilitate precise year-to-year comparisons.
4 of 20Critics have also pointed out that the use of overa ll scores to rank schools magnifies smallÂ—and often insignificantÂ—differences among schools, and that small changes by the school or the magazine can move a college half a dozen places up or down the ranking list (Crenshaw, 1999). U.S. News acknowledged this issue in 1998 when it began roun ding overall scores to the nearest whole number in recognition, the editors noted, of the fact that small differences after the decimal point may reflect non-significant differences betwe en schools (Thompson and Morse, 1998). Subsequently, the number of schools tied for overal l score (and thus rank) increased dramatically. While much criticism and debate has focused on the methodology used to produce the rankings, the majority of research has focused on the extent to w hich the rankings are used by students and parents (e.g., Art and Science Group, 1995; McDonou gh, Antonio, Walpole, and Perez, 1998) or their effect on institutions (e.g., Monks and Ehren berg, 1999). The research presented here addresses the two methodological concerns outlined above. In particular, this study answers the following questions: What is the extent of change in U.S. News' ranking formulas across years and what are the implications for interpreting shifts in a school's rank over time? 1. How precise is the overall score that U.S. News uses to rank schools and what are the implications for assigning schools to discrete rank s? 2.Methods and ResultsTracking Changes in Ranking Formulas across YearsIn order to gauge the extent of change in the U.S. News ranking formulas over time, year-to-year changes to the indicators used in each formula were tracked across rankings published between 1995 and 2000 inclusive. Four types of changes were identified and tracked over this six-year period: changes in the weight assigned to an indica tor; the removal of an indicator from a formula; the addition of an indicator to a formula; and, cha nges in an indicator's definition or methodology. Rankings examined included business, education, eng ineering, law, and medicine/primary-care at the graduate level and national university and nati onal liberal arts college at the undergraduate. Changes in weights, methodology, and the addition o r removal of indicators were generally easy to track, although it was not possible to fully track changes in weights at the undergraduate level as this information was not included until the 1998 ed ition of the guidebook. Changes in indicator definition were harder to identify as the wording f or a definition could differ from one year to the next, while the underlying meaning might not. The f ollowing rule was used to identify an indicator definition change: The new wording must contain additional detail such as a date, money amount, percent, or other precise information not previously stated or implied. 1. If the new wording does not include such detail, it should be recognized as changed by U.S. News in the guidebook text. 2. Analyses focused on the types of changes that were made to the formula for each ranking, the total number of these changes across time, the proportion of non-change in each ranking formula, and the extent to which the amount of change in a ranki ng formula was related to the amount of movement in the relative ranks for schools in that ranking across the same time period. Table 1 summarizes changes in the indicators used f or each ranking from 1995 to 2000. The
5 of 20 number of changes for each ranking, by type and ove rall, is shown in columns two through eight. The national university and national liberal arts c ollege changes are shown in one column as they use the same formula. The final column in Table 1 r eflects the total number of changes across all seven rankings (i.e., business, education, engineer ing, law, medical, national university/liberal arts and primary care), again broken down by type.Table 1 Changes in U.S. News Ranking Indicators, 1995-2000BusinessEducationEngineeringLawMedicalNational University/LiberalArts Primary Care Total Definition/Methodology 4 (50)*4 (67)3 (37.5)10 (72) 4 (100)4 (50)3 (60)32 (60) Weight 3 (37.5)2 (33)3 (37.5)1 (7)02 (25)2 (40)13 (25) Addition 0 (0)0 (0)1 (12.5)1 (7)01 (12.5)03 (6) Removal 1 (12.5)0 (0)1 (12.5)2 (14) 01 (12.5)05 (9) Total 8 (100)6 (100)8 (100)14 (100) 4 (100)8 (100)5 (100)53 (100) *Column percentages are in parentheses.Most changes were weight or definition/methodology changes, comprising 85 percent of all changes occurring over the six editions. Very few i ndicators were added to or removed from the ranking formulas, suggesting that U.S. News generally retained the same set of indicators for each ranking, but consistently refined and redefined the se indicators over the years. (Of course, this redefining process can also change an indicator sub stantially). The rate of change varied widely across rankings. W hile most rankings averaged between 6 and 8 formula changes over the six editions, the law rank ings experienced 14 and the medical rankings only 4 changes over the same period. Several reason s account for the larger number of changes in the law ranking's indicators, including U.S. News' responses to the complaints of law schools (who tend to complain more than other schools) and the r elease of new types of quality-related information by the American Bar Association.While a ranking (e.g., the law rankings) may have e xperienced a large number of changes relative to other rankings, these changes may be concentrate d in a small group of indicators that are constantly being refined. Different rankings of sch ools also use different numbers of indicators to compute their overall score, and thus two rankings that experience the same types and number of changes may differ in the number of indicators left unchanged overall. Figure 1 shows the proportion of unchanged indicators for each ranking between 1995 and 2000 inclusive.
6 of 20 Figure 1. Proportion of Indicators Remaining Unchan ged in Each US News Ranking, 1995-2000. The undergraduate rankings (both national universit y and national liberal arts college) have the largest proportion (.73 approximately) of unchanged indicators. In contrast, only about one third of the law school indicators remained unchanged. For m ost rankings, about half to two thirds of the indicators remained unchanged over the six editions This suggests that while it may not be always possible to interpret changes in a school's overall rank across years, it is possible to track performance on individual indicators that have rema ined unchanged across the years. Most of the unchanged indicators are related to selectivity (e. g., test scores and the proportion of applicants accepted into the program) and institutional resour ces (e.g., student-faculty ratios). In Table 2, an X indicates when it is possible to make cross-year c omparisons for a ranking. The criteria used to make this determination include th e four types of indicator changes discussed above as well as more general formula changes. The latter occurred twice over the six editions examined here: In 1998 when overall scores were rounded to t he nearest whole number, and in 1999 when a school's performance on each indicator was standard ized before obtaining the overall rank score. While it was not possible to make cross-year compar isons for most rankings over the six years, the last column in Table 2 suggests that the ranking fo rmulas may be stabilizing. Between 1999 and 2000, there were no changes in the formulas used to rank schools of education, engineering, law, and medicine, suggesting that change in a school's rank between 1999 and 2000 could be interpreted in terms of change in its relative acad emic quality.Table 2 Ability to Make Comparisons Across Years for a Rank ing, 1995-2000Ranking1995-19961996-19971997-19981998-19991999-200 0 BusinessX Education X Engineering X Law X MedicalXX X National Liberal Arts National University
7 of 20 Primary CareX X It is important to remember that even when a formul a appears to remain stable across years, there can still be difficulties with cross-year interpret ation of ranks. This is due to problems with the accuracy of the information obtained and critics ha ve pointed out several errors that have arisen due to mistakes (both accidental and deliberate) in rep orting by institutions, and due to the differing ways in which schools compute figures for certain i ndicators (Machung, 1998, Smetanka, 1998, Stecklow, 1995, Wright, 1990-91). U.S. News has tried to reduce the error introduced by these practices by cross-checking data sent in by schools with data collected by debt-rating agencies, investors and national organizations such as the Na tional Collegiate Athletic Association, and tightening up their survey questions, but issues st ill remain. The final stage of the comparability analysis exami ned the extent to which the amount of change in a ranking formula is related to the amount of movem ent in schools' ranks for that ranking across years. Table 3 shows the correlation (r) between th e 1995 and 2000 ranks for the top-fifty schools in each ranking in 1995.Table 3 Correlation between 1995 and 2000 Ranks for the Top-Fifty Schools in 1995, By RankingRankingCorrelation (r)Business.89Education.72Engineering.88Law.92Medicine.88National Universities.95National Liberal Arts College.94Primary Care.08 There is no definite relationship between the amoun t of change in the indicators for a ranking and the correlation between the 1995 and 2000 ranks for the top-fifty ranked schools in 1995. For example, while law schools experienced the most cha nge in their indicators over the six editions of U.S. News there was not much difference (r = .92) in the ra nk ordering of the top-fifty law schools in 1995 and their ordering in 2000. While varying a mounts of change was experienced in the indicators used for the other rankings, they still show a high degree of similarity (with r's between .88 and .95) in the rank ordering of their top 50 s chools in 1995 and 2000. The main exceptions to this are the education (r = .72) and primary-care ( r = .08) rankings. The low correlation between the primary-care rankings in 1995 and 2000 can be expla ined by changes in the population of schools that U.S. News included in these rankings during this time period In contrast, the low (relative to the other rankings) correlation between the 1995 an d 2000 ranks of the top-fifty schools of education in 1995 is linked to the fact that 16 of the top 50 schools in 1995 had experienced large changes in rankÂ–of ten or moreÂ–by the 2000 edition. Table 4 shows the 16 schools of education.
8 of 20 The first six schools all experienced a decline in rank, ranging from a drop of 10 places for the University of Southern California and the Universit y of Iowa to a drop of 22 places for Syracuse University. The remaining schools all improved thei r rank since 1995. Improvement ranged from an increase of 10 places for the Rutgers University to a jump of 30 places for Arizona State University.Table 4 Schools of Education with the Biggest Differences i n U.S. News Rank between 1995 and 2000aSchoolRank Change in RankBetween 1995 and2000 199519961997199819992000 University of Iowa202214152730-10University of SouthernCalifornia 232726303133-10 University of Georgia151015191826-11SUNY-Buffalo3945434746Not Ranked At least -12 Boston University31373243Not Ranked 46-15 Syracuse University284146454650-22Rutgers State University-NewBrunswick 493329303339+10 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 2579111014+11 University of Pittsburgh, Main Campus 44Not Ranked 43343733+11 Temple University333034282020+13George WashingtonUniversity 453937303430+15 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 2298687+15 University of NorthCarolina-Chapel Hill 323231282217+15 University ofTexas-Austin 271912131112+15 New York University402823191612+28Arizona State University-Main Campus 472939272417+30aThis table does not include schools that were not r anked in 1995 but appeared in the top 50 in the
9 of 202000 edition.Cross-year data for the top-fifty schools in 1995 i n other rankings were also examined to assess the extent to which similar movements in rank occurred (only data for the top 25 schools of medicine/primary-care and the top 40 national liber al arts colleges were available). Only nine business schools, one engineering school, eight law schools, no medical or primary-care schools, three national liberal arts colleges and two nation al universities differed by ten or more places in their 1995 and 2000 ranks.It is not clear why there was more movement among s chools of education compared to other types of schools. If changes in indicators (i.e., weight, definition, or other changes) are not responsible, movement could be due to changes in schools' perfor mance on the indicators or errors or inconsistencies in the information reported by scho ols. Unfortunately, it is difficult to identify the real reasons for these movement patterns among scho ols of education over time, as well as why these differ from other rankings, as U.S. News did not print much information on schools' performance on the individual indicators until 1999 .Estimating Error or Uncertainty around the Overall ScoreThere is no universally agreed-upon set of informat ion for creating academic quality rankings. Thus, various ranking efforts use indicators that d iffer in whole or in part from those used by others even when attempting to rank the same schools. It i s not difficult to imagine that slight changes in the set of indicators usedÂ–such as the addition or removal of a single indicatorÂ–may move a school up or down a ranking, depending on how it performs on the indicator relative to other schools. To gauge the effect of slight changes in the set of in dicators on the stability of the overall score and subsequent ranking for a school, a technique called jackknifing (Efron and Tibshirani, 1993) was applied to the data for the top-50 schools in each of the 2000 business, education, law, national liberal arts college, and national university ranki ngs. (Note 4) First, a baseline regression model was created for each of the rankings, with schools' overall scores as the dependent or outcome variable and the indica tors used for each ranking as the independent or predictor variables. The overall fit of the model t o the data was assessed in terms of the adjusted R Squared. Values of .9 and above were considered a g ood fit, meaning that the overall score predicted by the model for a school was highly corr elated with the score produced by U.S. News' ranking formula, and that the regression model was an effective substitute for the weights-and-sum formula used by U.S. News All models met this criterion, with adjusted Rs Squared varying between .99 for the national liberal arts college a nd national university models, .98 for the business school and law school models, and .95 for the educa tion school model. (Note 5) An approximation to a standard error for each schoo l's overall score was obtained using the following formula (Efron and Tibshirani, 1993): (Note 6)
10 of 20 The removal of one indicator at a time for the jack knife regression models did not seem to affect substantially the overall adjusted R Squared in most instances. For example, for each of the 9 models estimated using the law school data, the adjusted R Squared never varied by more than .01 from the adjusted R Squared for the overall model (i.e., .98), suggest ing that the indicators are contributing fairly similar information to the esti mation of the overall score. As a result, the jackknife standard errors are quite small, varying, in the case of law schools, from a low of .74 for the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to a high of 3.06 for Harvard University. A similar range of standard error values was obtained for all rankings except for schools of education. The regression model for schools of education was not as robust to changes in indicators and the adjusted R Squared dropped considerably (by .13) when one indi cator in particularÂ— Research Expenditure Â—was removed. The resultant jackknife standard erro rs for schools of education are therefore quite large, varying from a low of 1.78 f or Stanford University to a high of 11.98 for the University of Southern California.Differences in the standard errors for individual s chools are due to differences in how the removal of different indicators from the equation affects t he prediction of their overall score. For schools that have large standard errors, the removal of cer tain indicators makes it much harder to predict the overall score they received from U.S. News For school with smaller standard errors, the remo val of indicators does not appreciably reduce the precisio n of estimation of their overall score. This suggests that schools are differentially affected b y the presence or absence of certain indicators in terms of their overall score and subsequent rank.This error estimate was then used in a t-test to as sess the extent to which one school's overall score was significantly different from that of another. T he t-test formula employed was: (Note 7) The results of these comparisons are summarized in Tables 5 through 9 which are in the form of Excell spreadsheets. In each table, schools are ord ered by their overall ranking score across the heading and down the rows. Read across the row for a school in order to compare its performance with the schools listed in the heading of the chart The symbols indicate whether the overall score of the school in the row is significantly lower tha n that of the comparison school in the heading (arrow pointing down), significantly higher than th at of the comparison school (arrow pointing up),
11 of 20 or if there is no statistically significant differe nce between the two schools (circle). The blank diagonal represents where a school is compared agai nst itself. If there were no error around the overall scores fo r schools, Tables 5 through 9 would only consist of arrows pointing up and down, except for instance s where two schools have the same overall score and are tied for rank. This is not the case. For example, in the business school rankings comparison table (Table 5) Harvard is listed first in the row and heading as it has the highest overal l score among business schools. However, reading acro ss the row, it appears that Harvard's overall score of 100 is not significantly different from th at of nine other schools that are ranked beneath it These include Stanford, which is tied for first ran k with Harvard with an overall score of 100, and University of California, Berkeley, ranked tenth wi th a score of 90. Only schools ranked below tenth have scores that are significantly lower than Harvard's.Tables 5 9 Statistical Significance of Comparisons of Overall Scores in Five Areas (Data in the Form of Excell Spreadshe ets) Table 5: Business Table 6: Education Table 7: Law Table 8: Liberal Arts Table 9: National Universities In general, when the overall score for a school is compared to that of every other school in its ranking (top-fifty schools only), three groups emer ge: schools that score significantly higher, schools that score significantly lower, and schools with scores that are not significantly different. This pattern is consistent across all the compariso n tables. For example, among the business schools in Table 5, three distinct groupings emerge The first group comprises 10 schools at the top of the rankings, extending from first-ranked Harvar d to tenth-ranked University of California, Berkeley. These schools have scores that are not si gnificantly different from each other but that are significantly higher than all other schools' scores The second grouping extends from eleventh-ranked Dartmouth, University of California Los Angeles, and the University of Virginia to nineteenth-ranked Carnegie Mellon. These schools ha ve scores that are not significantly different from each other but that are significantly lower th an the top-ranked schools in the first group and significantly higher than the lower-ranked schools in the third grouping. The third group is the largest. It comprises 31 schools, extending from tw entieth-ranked Indiana University to forty-eighth-ranked University of Georgia, Universi ty of Illinois-Urbana Champagne, and the University of Notre Dame. These schools all have sc ores that are not significantly different from each other but that are significantly lower than th e scores of schools in the first two groups. This three-groupings pattern is evident for all ran kings except schools of education. There are only two groupings evident in Table 6. The first group c omprises the top-three-ranked schools of educationÂ—Harvard University, Stanford University, and Teacher's College/Columbia University. These schools have scores that are not significantl y different from each other but that are
12 of 20significantly higher than the scores for almost all other schools in the top fifty. The second group o f schools extends from fourth-ranked University of Ca lifornia-Berkeley to the four schools tied for fiftieth rank. These schools all have scores that a re not significantly different from each other but that are significantly lower than the scores of mos t schools in the top group. This two-grouping effect occurs because schools of education are more sensitive to changes in the indicators used than other types of schools. This results in larger stan dards errors around their overall score and fewer significant differences between the scores of neigh boring schools.Conclusions and RecommendationsThe results of these analyses show that, given the number and annual nature of changes to each ranking formula, it is generally not possible to in terpret year-to-year shifts in a school's rank in terms of change in its relative academic quality. D epending on the ranking, it is possible to make cross-year comparisons of a school's relative perfo rmance on between a third to three-quarters of the individual indicators used. While not experienc ing much change to their ranking formula over time, schools of education have experienced markedl y more movement in their ranks than other schools. It is not evident why this has occurred or what it says about the U.S. News rankings as a measure of the relative quality of these schools. T he overall rate of change in the ranking formulas appears to be slowing and it was possible to make c ross-year comparisons of schools' ranks for almost all rankings between 1999 and 2000.The results of the error analyses call into questio n the use of overall scores to assign schools to individual ranks. The analyses show that when inter preting scores for school with the aid of their standard errors, precision blurs and schools start to group in bands rather than discrete ranks. The results confirm the critics' sense of unease at the precision of a single score, particularly in the c ase of the education rankings.At least five recommendations can be made for impro ving the interpretability and usefulness of the U.S. News rankings. First, U.S. News needs to stabilize their ranking methodology. This is particularly important since the rankings are annual in nature and imply s ome kind of comparability. A related issue to consider is whether the rankings need to be annu al in nature. While there is an obvious commercial value to annual rankings, particularly o ne that keeps changing the winners, it is doubtful whether there is an educational or consume r value. 1. Second, U.S. News needs to recognize the uncertainty around schools' overall scores. The results of this analysis suggest that it would be m ore accurate to group schools in bands than to assign them discrete ranks. This approach would avoid the misleading effect that small changes in a school's rank from year to year produc es in terms of the public perception's of its academic quality. 2. Third, the schools of education rankings need to be reassessed since they do not seem to "hold together." Better comparisons might emerge if they were divided into two more conceptually coherent groups (e.g., those that are primarily research oriented and those that are primarily teacher-training oriented.) U.S. News already does this for schools of medicineÂ—i.e., there is an overall ranking of medic al schools as well as a ranking of schools that focus on the training of primary-care physicia ns. 3. Fourth, in order to be accountable to consumers, U.S. News needs to make available all data used to create the rankings. Currently, US News only publishes information for the 4.
13 of 20top-ranked schools and less or no information on lo wer-ranked schools. While space constraints may make it difficult to publish this i nformation in the magazine, no such restrictions apply on the US News website. A final general recommendation is that U.S. News should adopt a model similar to that used by Consumer Reports for reporting its quality ratings. Consumer Reports rates products, but does not allow the product manufacturers to use the se ratings in their advertising. Similarly, U.S. News should not allow schools to use their ratings in t heir promotional materials or other advertising. This approach might relieve some of th e tension and debate that currently surrounds the rankings and make their annual arriva l on newsstands a less stressful event for the higher education community. 5.Notes 1. The term "rankings," as used in this artcles, refer s to a list of schools or universities that are ordered according to their overall score on a formu la created by U.S. News Thus, the business rankings are a list of business schools ordered acc ording to their overall score on a formula that U.S. News uses to rank graduate schools of business, and the national university rankings are a list of schools ordered according to their overall score on a formula that U.S. News uses to rank national universities. The year appended to a ranki ng is the calendar year in which it was released, i.e., the 2000 education rankings were published in the year 2000. 2. It is worth noting that several of these indicators Â—such as test scores, reputation, research expenditure, and faculty awardsÂ—have been used trad itionally to measure quality (Hattendorf, 1993: Webster, 1986). The U.S. News rankings differ from most other rankings in that t hey assign weights to these indicators in order to combine the m and produce a composite score. 3. The full text of this letter is available at: http://www-portfolio.stanford.edu:8050/documents/pr esident/961206gcfallow.html 4. No data was available for schools below the top-50 for most of the rankings. 5. U.S. News does not make available in its magazine or on its website all the data it uses to rank schools, nor is this information available on reque st. On average, each ranking is missing information on two or three indicators. This was no t a problem for this analysis, since the available indicators, as indicated by the adjusted R Squared values, almost perfectly replicated the overall scores produced by U.S. News Thus, very little information was lost. 6. While the "error estimate" obtained is not strictly a standard error, since the indicators are not randomly sampled, it may still be viewed as a gener al indication of the uncertainty around an overall score due to changes in the indicators used to compute that score. In addition, it is probably a conservative estimate of the uncertainty around s cores as the indicators chosen by U.S. News tend to be highly correlated. A random sample from the p opulation of indicators would probably be less highly correlated, which would result in larger sta ndard errors around schools' overall scores. 7. Since there are, on average, 50 schools in each ran king, around 49 t-test comparisons were made for each school in the rankings. In order to contro l for the increased probability of a significant finding due to chance alone, a Bonferroni adjustmen t was applied.
14 of 20 8. For more information see http://www.usnews.com/usne ws/edu/college/corank.htm 9. U.S. News uses a modification of the classification system d eveloped by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in order to classif y colleges and universities. The Carnegie system is a generally accepted classification syste m for higher education.ReferencesArt and Science Group, (1995). Influence of U.S. News rankings on college choice, StudentPOLL: Market Intelligence for Higher Education 1(1). Crenshaw, A. B. (1999). Colleges by the numbers. Washington Post August 29, p. H01. Efron, B., and Tibshirani, R. J. (1993). An introduction to the bootstrap New York: Chapman and Hall.Hattendorf, L. C. (ed.) (1993). Educational rankings annual Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc. Levin, S. (1999). Ignore college rankingÂ—become an educated consumer. Washington Parent Magazine. Available at: http://www.washingtonparent.com/articles/9712/ranki ngs.htm Machung, A. (1998). What's at stake: College rankin gs and the new media. Change July/August, pp. 13-16.McDonough, P. M., Antonio, A. L., Walpole, M., and Perez, L. X. (1998). College rankings: Democratized knowledge for whom? Research in Higher Education 39(5), pp. 513-37. Monks, J., and Ehrenberg, R. G. (1999). The impact of U.S. News and World Report college rankings on admissions outcomes and pricing policie s at selective private institutions Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Mufson, S. (1999). Rankings all-important to GWU. Washington Post Sunday, March 14, P.A01. Pellegrini, F. (1999). Those bouncing college ranki ngsÂ—a 101. Time August 31. Smetanka, M. J. (1998). Magazine's new ratings on c olleges don't rank high at "U." Star Tribune February 20, p. 7B.Stecklow, S. (1995). Cheat sheets: Colleges inflate SATs and graduation rates in popular guidebooks: Schools say they must fib to US News an d others to compete effectively: Moody's requires the truth. The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, April 5, pp. 1, A8. Thompson, J. J., and Morse, R. J. (1998). An explan ation of the U.S. News rankings: Putting the numbers into context. U.S. News and World Report America's Best Colleges 1998 p. 66-68. Webster, D. S. (1986). Academic quality rankings of American colleges and universities Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Wright, B. A. (1990-91). The rating game: How the m edia affect college admission. The College Board Review No. 158, Winter, pp. 12-17, 31.
15 of 20 About the AuthorMarguerite Clarke Boston College Phone: 617-552-0665 Fax: 617-552-8419Email: email@example.comMarguerite Clarke is an Assistant Professor of Rese arch at Boston College. She has a Ph.D. in educational research, measurement, and evaluation a s well as degrees in bilingual/multicultural and elementary education. Her research interests includ e policy and technical issues surrounding large-scale testing and accountability programs; th e impact of testing on teaching and learning; and the relationship between test use and educational o pportunity and access for different student populations.Appendix A Current U.S. News College and Graduate School Ranking MethodologyThe current method that U.S. News uses to produce college rankings has three basic s teps. (Note 8) First, colleges in the U.S. are placed into categor ies based on mission and region. (Note 9) Colleges within each category are ranked separately. Second, U.S. News collects data from each school on up to 16 separate indicators of what it believes refle cts academic quality. As Table 10 indicates, each indicator is assigned a weight in the ranking formu la that reflects the judgement of U.S. News about which measures of quality matter most. Column 4 of Table 10 shows the weight that each indicator (shown in column 3 of Table 10) receives within its category and column 2 shows the weight this category receives in the overall ranking formula. F or example, a school's acceptance rate is 15 percent of its Student Selectivity category score o r rank, and the Student Selectivity category contributes 15 percent to a school's overall score and rank. Indicators are standardized and then combined (usin g weights) to produce an overall score for each school. These scores are re-scaled. The top school is assigned a value of 100, and the other schools' weighted scores are calculated as a proportion of t hat top score. Final scores for each ranked school are rounded to the nearest whole number and ranked in descending order. U.S. News publishes the individual ranks of only the top schools; the remai nder is grouped into tiers.Table 10 U.S. News Indicators and Weights for the 2000 College Rankin gsaRanking CategoryCategory Weight IndicatorIndicator Weight Academic Reputation 25%Academic Reputation Survey100% Student Selectivity 15%Acceptance Rate Yield High School StandingÂ— Top10% SAT/ACT Scores 15% 10% 35% 40%
16 of 20 Faculty Resources 20%Faculty Compensation Faculty With Top Terminal Degree Percent Full-time Faculty Student/Faculty Ratio Class Size, 1-19 Students Class Size, 50+ Students 35% 15% 5% 5% 30% 10% Retention Rate 20%Average Graduation Rate Average Freshmen Retention Rate 80% 20% Financial Resources 10%Educational Expenditures Per Student 100% Alumni Giving 5%Alumni Giving Rate100% Graduation RatePerformance 5%Graduation Rate Performance100%aThese indicators and weights are for the national l iberal arts and national university rankings only. A similar methodology is employed for the graduate school rankings. U.S. News collects data from each program on indicators of what it believes refl ect academic quality. Each indicator is assigned a weight based on U.S. News' judgment about which measures matter most. Data ar e standardized, and standardized scores are weighted, totaled, and re-scaled so that the top school receives 100; other schools receive a percentage of the top score Schools are then ranked based on the score they receive.The five major disciplines examined yearly are busi ness, education, engineering, law, and medicine. Master's and doctoral programs in areas such as the arts, sciences, social sciences, humanities, library science, public affairs, and various health fields are ranked only by reputation and are generally evaluated every third year. The specific indicators and weights used for rankings within each of the five major disciplines are outlined in Tables 11 through 15.Table 11 U.S. News Indicators and Weights for the 2000 Business Ranki ngsRankingCategory CategoryWeight IndicatorIndicator Weight Reputation40% Academic Survey Non-academic Survey 60% 40% PlacementSuccess 35% Mean Starting Salary and Bonus Employment at Graduation and Three Months Later 40% 20% and 40% StudentSelectivity 25% Mean Graduate Management AdmissionTest Scores Mean Undergraduate Grade Point Average Proportion of Applicants Accepted 65% 30% 5%
17 of 20 Table 12 U.S. News Indicators and Weights for the 2000 Education Rank ingsRankingCategory CategoryWeight Indicator IndicatorWeight Reputation40% Academic Survey Non-academic Survey 60% 40% StudentSelectivity 20% Average Verbal, Analytical and QuantitativeGREs Proportion of Applicants Accepted 30% each 10% FacultyResources 20% Ratio of Full-time Doctoral and Master's DegreeCandidates to Full-time Faculty Percent of Faculty Given Awards Number of Doctoral and Master's Degrees Granted in the past school year Proportion of Graduate Students Who Are Doctoral Candidates 25% and 20%20% 15% and10% 10% ResearchActivity 20% Total Research Expenditures Research Expenditures Per Faculty Member 75% 25%Table 13. U.S. News Indicators and Weights for the 2000 Engineering Ra nkingsRankingCategory CategoryWeight Indicator IndicatorWeight Reputation40% Academic Survey Non-academic Survey 60% 40% StudentSelectivity 10% Average Quantitative and Analytical GREs Proportion of Applicants Accepted 45% each 10% FacultyResources 25% Ratio of Full-time Doctoral and Master's DegreeCandidates to Full-time Faculty Proportion of Faculty Members of NAE Number of Ph.D Degrees Granted in the last school year Proportion of Faculty Holding Doctoral Degrees 25% and 10%25% 20% 20% ResearchActivity 25% Total Research Expenditures Research Expenditures Per Faculty Member 60% 40%Table 14 U.S. News Indicators and Weights for the 2000 Law RankingsRankingCategory CategoryWeight IndicatorIndicator Weight
18 of 20 Reputation 40%Academic Survey Non-academic Survey 60% 40% StudentSelectivity 25%Median LSAT Scores Median Undergraduate GPA Proportion of Applicants Accepted 50% 40% 10% PlacementSuccess 20%Employment Rates at Graduation and Nine Months Later Bar Passage Rate 30% and 60% 10% FacultyResources 15%Average Expenditures Per Student For Instruction etc. Student to Teacher Ratio Average Expenditures Per Student For Financial Aid etc. Total Number of Volumes in Law Library 65% 20% 10% 5%Table 15 U.S. News Indicators and Weights for the 2000 Medicine and P rimary-Care (in parentheses where different) RankingsRankingCategory CategoryWeight Indicator IndicatorWeight Reputation40% Academic Survey Non-academic Survey 50% (60%) 50% (40%) StudentSelectivity 20% Mean MCAT Scores Mean Undergraduate Grade Point Average Proportion of Applicants Accepted 65% 30% 5% FacultyResources 10% Ratio of Full-time Science and Clinical Faculty toFull-time Students 100% Primary CareRate (Primary Care Only) 30% The Percentage of MDs From a School EnteringPrimary-care Residencies, Averaged Over 1997, 1998,and 1999 100% ResearchActivity (Medicine only) 30% Total Dollar Amount of National Institutes of Healt h Research Grants Awarded to the Medical School andits Affiliated Hospitals, Averaged for 1998 and 199 9 100%Copyright 2002 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is epaa.asu.edu General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him at College
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