From U.S. News and World Report comes a piece called, interestingly enough, “Do the U.S. News rankings play key role in determining a school’s academic reputation?”
In it, Robert Morse, the director of data research for U.S. News & World Report, addresses the controversy surronding the report published recently in the American Journal of Education. This was the paper that demonstrates that peer assessment of colleges has a very strong effect on the rank of colleges, no matter what colleges actually do.
Morse defends the reputation component of the U.S. News rankings like this:
My take on this: College rankings have filled a real information void for consumers. It’s true that the peer assessment ranking scores are relatively stable from one year to another; that has been proved by other academics in other papers. In our own published data and rankings, the schools with the highest peer scores tend to have the highest graduation and retention rates and strongest admission data and faculty and financial resources. It’s vice-versa for schools with lower reputations. This proves that the peer scores are measuring far more than themselves, since they are reflective of the school’s overall academic profile.
Again, good point. There is a strong connection between peer assessment and actual college quality. One wonders, however, why ambiguous information like how people “feel” about other colleges currently constitutes 25 percent of college rank (more than any other factor).