The popularity of college ranking surveys published by U.S. News and World Report, Money magazine, Barron's, and many others is indisputable. However, the methodologies used in these reports to measure the quality of higher education institutions have come under fire by scholars and college officials. Also contentious is some college and university officials' practice of altering or manipulating institutional data in response to unfavorable portrayals of their schools in rankings publications.
In college rankings publications, as opposed to college guides which offer descriptive information, a judgment or value is placed on an institution or academic department based upon a publisher's criteria and methodology (Stuart, 1995, p. 13). In the United States, academic rankings first appeared in the 1870s, and their audience was limited to groups such as scholars, higher education professionals, and government officials (Stuart, 1995, pp.16-17). College rankings garnered mass appeal in 1983, when U.S. News and World Report's college issue, based on a survey of college presidents, was the first to judge or rank colleges (McDonough, Antonio, Walpole, and Perez, 1998, p. 514). In today's market, the appeal of college ranking publications has increased dramatically. Time magazine estimates that prospective college students and their parents spend about $400 million per year on college-prep products, which include ranking publications (McDonough et al., 1998, p. 514).
Popularity of College Rankings
Hunter (1995) believes that the popularity of rankings publications can be attributed to several factors: growing public awareness of college admissions policies during the 1970s and 1980s; the public's loss of faith in higher education institutions due to political demonstrations on college campuses; and major changes on campus in the 1960s and 1970s such as coeducation, integration, and diversification of the student body, which forced the public to reevaluate higher education institutions (p. 8). Parents of college-bound students may also use reputational rankings that measure the quality colleges as a way to justify their sizable investment in their children's college education. (McDonough et al., 1998, p. 515-516).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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