Data on the Web may replace U.S. News rankings

EVANSTON, Ill. (College Press Exchange) — Stanford University officials, unhappy with the current college ranking system offered annually by U.S. News & World Report, have announced plans to create an alternative system.
In a press release calling U.S. News & World Report’s methods of ranking institutions misleading and inaccurate, Stanford President Gerhard Casper invited interested colleges and universities to post some of the data currently reported by the magazine directly to the World Wide Web.
Each institution would be responsible for its own site, which will contain data on areas such as student-faculty ratios, graduation rates and class size.
The new plan will do away with the ranking system, said Nick Thompson, a Stanford senior and creator of the Forget U.S. News Coalition. Ranking colleges is foolish and invites students to choose a school solely by its rank, Thompson said.
“It’s ridiculous to say, ‘We’re No. 6 and you’re No. 7, so we’re better than you,'” he said.
Carol Lunkenheimer, director of undergraduate admissions at Northwestern University, said she likes the idea of less emphasis on rank.
But she said putting the information on the Web might alienate some potential students.
“There are an awful lot of students who don’t have access to the Web,” Lunkenheimer said.
Al Sanoff, managing editor of the U.S. News college guide, said he stands behind the idea of ranking colleges and universities.
“It helps to provide people with some perspective,” Sanoff said.
Sanoff said he disagrees with Casper’s claim that U.S. News ranks “colleges and universities like automobiles and toasters.”
“I think that’s an unfair and misleading analogy,” he said. “Our ratings are quite sophisticated, and we use data that the institutions use themselves for internal comparisons.”
Sanoff also said he is skeptical about universities’ ability to create unbiased and accurate sites.
“We go to great lengths to ensure that all the information is accurate and that all schools are judged by the same criteria,” he said. “Will they do the same?”
Four other schools have agreed to put Web sites up, Thompson said. He said he hopes that about 50 other schools that have expressed interest will agree to do the same within the next few weeks.
Even though Stanford has objected to the U.S. News’ rating system, the university will continue to submit data for the magazine’s annual report, Casper said.
Stanford students have been protesting the magazine’s rating system since May 1996, Thompson said. The 1997 college ratings, in which Stanford fell from 5th to 6th nationwide, came out last October.
“That was the worst thing that could have happened to us,” he said. “Then people thought we were doing this because we dropped one [ranking].”