U.S. News ranks College 9th -- again

by Ithan Peltan | 9/25/02 5:00am

For the third-straight year, Dartmouth earned ninth place in U.S. News and World Report's annual college rankings, an often criticized but heavily utilized tool for prospective applicants.

The release of the rankings earlier this month prompted renewed criticism from higher education officials across the country, who say that the magazine's approach is fundamentally flawed and cannot offer a realistic picture of an institution.

But U.S. News Director of Media Relations Richard Folkers fired back, saying that such charges and accusations of "rampant consumerism" are "interesting coming from a community that uses a number to reject applicants, namely test scores."

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

In the 2003 listings, Princeton retained first place, and Harvard and Yale stayed tied at second. The University of Pennsylvania 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.

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 always garners significant attention on and off college campuses, a sign of the importance they 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 U.S. News rankings, it experiences a decline in the number and quality of applicants.

Folkers said the U.S. News rankings are meant to be just "a tool to have in your toolbox. ... They're intended to be a resource for students and families that are making a very important and awfully expensive decision."

Andrew Garrod, a Dartmouth professor of education, said that the full rankings -- including the listings for faculty resources, alumni giving rates, and SAT scores -- can in fact be useful to high school students deciding where to apply and matriculate.

However, Garrod added that "It's dangerous if people feel that you can only get a very fine education at the top-listed schools."

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."

Other college rankings are also popular. The Princeton Review publishes listings of the top-20 schools in categories like "Great Food," "Lots of Beer," "Happy Students," and "Little Race/Class Interaction."

Dartmouth was ranked 12th, sixth, 13th, and 12th in those categories, respectively. Also according to the publication, Dartmouth students enjoy the third-best quality of life and the eighth-best overall academic experience.