U.S. News & World Report released its college rankings on September 10. CBS Money Watch described it as an "annual collegiate beauty pageant" in the article, Why U.S. News' college rankings hurt students.
The fact is for 2014, Ivy league schools scored six out of the top ten spots in the National Universities category. Another fact is this result is typical of past U.S. News ranking lists. The main change from year to year seems to be the order in which the top Ivies are listed.
Only 1,376 schools are ranked.although data was collected on 1,800 schools. Not all schools participated in the survey but U.S. News was able to substitute federal government information.
College beauty contest
Based on the fact the U.S. News methodology uses peer assessment as a ranking factor, CBS Money Watch describes it as "a beauty contest."
U.S. News calls it the "undergraduate academic reputation" and values this as 22.5 percent of a school's ranking score.
In the article, Why U.S. News college rankings shouldn’t matter to anyone, The Washington Post also takes issue with peer assessment because it relies on the opinion of competitor schools' officials. The article asks the rhetorical question, "What do administrators at UCLA and Notre Dame, however, know about what's going on at the University of Texas, Oregon State or the University of South Florida?"
In addition to peer assessment, 12.5 percent of the U.S. News ranking methodology is based on student selectivity which includes college admission test scores. But The Washington Post points out, "SAT And ACT scores don’t do a good job predicting how well students will do in college..."
Acceptance rates are also part of the score but as more students apply for the same number of spots, less get accepted. This inflates a college's selectivity.
Money plays a big role, too. Alumni giving makes up 5%, faculty resources including salaries 20 percent, and per student spending 10 percent.
Less than a third of the ranking involves students actually earning a degree. Graduation rate performance comprises 7.5 percent and retention rate meaning freshmen who return to campus for their sophomore year and continue on to graduate within six years is calculated at 22.5 percent.
Other ranking lists
Other magazines, websites, companies and organizations have come up with their own college ranking lists, each with their own methodology. The Princeton Review's The Best 378 Colleges: 2014 Edition and Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014 Edition have several lists based on different classifications.
Past years have drawn unusual lists such as USA Today College's 10 quirky colleges you should consider and Unigo's specific category winners including happiest students, social net-working, new Ivies, hipster colleges and most famous recent grads.
All of these lists have one thing in common: they are a mix of opinion and fact. Read their methodology for more details.
Soon families will have one more list to consult. President Obama has directed the Department of Education to rate schools on their affordability, emphasizing the value of a school's education. The plan is for Congress to then tie financial aid to college performance before the start of the 2015 school year. Meanwhile, the college-bound can review the College Scorecard and input various factors while searching for a college to attend.
Personal ranking list
Parents and students can research colleges for facts about the education they offer and the qualifications of students they accept. Families can create their own college list based on their opinion of colleges that have the best programs, activities and location for that student. Next, they can rank the schools. The top ones should offer the best and most affordable education, completed in a timely manner that leads to a job and a desired lifestyle for that individual student.