Refuse to Answer

The most important component of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings is the peer assessment of colleges. This is the survey of college personnel used to measure the reputation a college enjoys among its peers. The Washington Post reports that this year some administrators just refuse to play that game. According to an article by Daniel de Vise:

Every year, hundreds of college presidents seek to improve their scores by sending their counterparts at other schools glossy mailings, interactive CDs and books that celebrate their institutional feats.

“We have other things to do with our money,” said William Durden of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. Durden said he had received faculty-penned books, bound volumes of presidential speeches and coffee-table art tomes this spring at a rate of 10 to 15 a week. “We know it’s a PR gimmick.”

Durden’s getting this stuff because such materials are supposed to lead him to rank colleges higher. It’s considered tacky to actually request that administrators rate one’s college well, or even mention U.S. News, but everyone knows why the stuff is coming in. According to the article:

Durden opts out of promotional mailings, as do the presidents of Goucher College in Baltimore, St. John’s College in Annapolis, Washington College on the Eastern Shore, Trinity Washington University in the District, Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., and others.

In 2007 the presidents of 12 colleges signed a letter in which they pledged to both “refuse to fill out the U.S. News and World Report reputational survey” and “refuse to use the rankings in any promotional efforts on behalf of your college or university, and more generally, refuse to refer to the rankings as an indication of the quality of your college or university.” Administrators at 53 other American colleges have subsequently signed the letter.

Some 25 percent of a college’s U.S. News rank (more than any other factor) comes from this survey. The reputation survey asks participants to rate colleges’ undergraduate quality on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “marginal” and 5 equals “distinguished.”

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer