College stays at No. 9 in U.S. News rankings

by Ithan Peltan | 9/14/02 5:00am

For the third-straight year, Dartmouth earned the number-nine spot in U.S. News and World Report's annual college rankings.

Released yesterday on usnews.com, Princeton retained the first place in the 2003 listing, and Harvard and Yale stayed tied at second. Penn moved up one spot, tying for fourth with the Massachusetts and California Institutes of Technology, Duke, and Stanford. Columbia, Cornell and Brown rounded out the Ivy League at 10th, 14th and 17th, respectively.

The controversial rankings are based largely on surveys filled out by college administrators and weight most heavily such factors as academic reputation, graduation/retention rates and faculty resources.

Many college admissions officers publicly dismiss the magazine's list, questioning its methodology and its ability to gauge the qualitative factors that make for a good fit between a student and his or her college.

University officials at top-ranked Princeton downplayed the significance of rankings in a press release because "the methodology in this report and similar surveys cannot capture the distinctiveness of any institution or whether one or another university might be an appropriate match for any individual student."

Nevertheless, the rankings' September release is always closely watched, a sign of the importance the rankings play in the decisions made by prospective applicants and even admitted students.

A Cornell survey released in 1999 suggested that when a school drops in the rankings, it experiences a decline in the number and quality of applicants.

In an interview with the Associated Press, U.S. News Managing Editor Brian Kelly said he regrets the emphasis colleges and the media place on the rankings. But he argued that the rankings are better than any other option on the market.

"The point of the critics is that this is not a valid way to look at colleges," Kelly said. "They say you have to look at what kids are actually learning and what their experiences are on campus, how much time are they spending with professors and so forth. Well, that's a nice notion, but to actually quantify that is very difficult."