Are rankings fact, fiction or somewhere
in between? Learn more about
university rankings, what they mean
and how you can use them.
Top 5 Colleges & Universities
What Criteria Did You Use?
• Number of citations by university researchers?
• Number of alumni winning Nobel Prizes and
• Academic-athletic balance?
• Proportion of international faculty?
• 6 year graduation rate?
• Salaries of alumni? Salaries of faculty?
• Acceptance rate?
• 1900 UK – Where We Get Our Best Men
– Published a list of universities ranked in order by
the absolute number of eminent men who
• 1910 US – American Men of Science
– “Students should certainly use every effort to
attend institutions having large proportions of
men of distinction.”
• 1924 US – Raymond Hughes’ study on
graduate school quality
• 1966 US – Assessment of Quality in Graduate
Education, The Cartter Report
– Surveyed leading profs from different graduate
Pre-US News World of Rankings
• Rankings were the realm of professors and
higher education administrators, not the
• They were published as studies in littlecirculated academic books and journals
• Even if located, they were often too obscure
• First university ranking system to be published in
a popular publication (1983)
• The first three versions were published every
other year and were entirely based on
reputational surveys of college presidents
• In 1988, US News began its annual publication of
rankings and incorporated additional criteria
(input and output)
Impact of US News
• Impact on high school student (and parent)
– Students with high academic achievement are
highly likely to find rankings “very important”
• Impact of decisions made by universities on:
– Admissions rates and practices
– Fundraising and spending
Gaming the System
• Universities have falsified data
• Reporting academic information only for
• Universities use unfair admissions practices
– Huge numbers on waitlists
– Part I of an application
• US News
– Based on academic outcomes and student reviews
– Combines universities and colleges
• Princeton Review
– Aspects of college life
• Kiplinger’s Best Values
Comprehensive and by Subject
– Involves the National Student Survey (data from 2 to 3
– Graduate prospects – How is this measured?
• The Guardian
– Focuses on teaching; ignores research
• The Times Good University Guide
– Research quality is from 2008!
• The Complete University Guide
– Library = 15%
– National Awards by faculty = 20%
* DIY Rankings! Cool
* Includes information from the National Survey of
Where’s the competition?
Include Subject-based Rankings
• QS World University Rankings
– 40% Global Reputation Survey
– Proportion of international students/faculty
• Times Higher Education World University Rankings
• Academic Ranking of World Universities
– Simple formula based on academic distinctions and research
Where are US colleges?
• Quality cannot be quantified
• Rankings measure how an institution grades out for
• When publications change their criteria, the rankings
noticeably change – sometimes drastically
• They can tell you, in general terms, about the academic
credentials of the students they attract
One Size Fits All?
• Institutions are so different with different
missions. Aren’t we unfairly comparing
• Are rankings really personal for you? Aren’t
How Can You Use Rankings?
• Read the methodology. Know what you’re
• Group universities (and colleges together)
• Use a variety of publications
• Use them as one small factor in your search