The Case Against College Rankings

Last Updated Sep 13, 2011 10:53 AM EDT

The wait -- if that's what you've been doing -- is finally over for those eager to see who is up and who is down in US News & World Report's annual college rankings.

Let me ruin the non-surprise for you: Harvard is once again No. 1 in this college rankings beauty contest. Williams College reclaimed the No. 1 mantle in the liberal arts college category.

I'm not a fan of US News' college rankings. My chief complaint is that the rankings have encouraged colleges to behave very badly in their pursuit of higher numbers. Too many schools, for instance, have turned the college admission process into an arms race -- pursuing ever more accomplished students in hopes of inching up in the rankings. US News pays attention to the type of teenagers who enter a university (test scores, GPA), but makes no attempt to measure if the schools are doing a good job of educating their own students.

This drive to attract the best students to their campuses has led to the sort of behavior that a conference held this year at the University of Southern California entitled, The Case for Change in College Admissions, lamented:

The process distorts students' relationships with learning, causing them to regard the high school years as an Olympic training season demanding ever-greater feats of accomplishments in order to qualify for admission to a selective university or college.
Another one of my complaints is that too many highly educated people, who should know better, honestly believe these numbers. Over the weekend, I was talking to a friend whose son is at Yale. The brilliant young man also got into Harvard, which was ranked two spots higher - just as it is now.

My friend told me that some parents questioned her son's decision to attend Yale because Harvard was top dog.

Does anyone else consider this beyond sad?

If you want to learn why you shouldn't put much weight into the rankings, read some of my past posts on the topic:

Why US News' College Rankings Are a Joke
Yawn, Harvard is No. 1 University, but Who is Always No. 3?
The Best Colleges You've Never Heard Of
College Rankings: It's the Silly Season
Why You Should Distrust College Rankings
College Rankings: Should We Care?
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and the Shrinking the Cost of College workbook. She also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.

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