U.S. News Imposes New National Ranking Methodology for 2024
Courtesy of Chronicle of Higher Ed
On September 18, 2023, U.S. News and World Report released their highly anticipated national college rankings, but a few things were different this year.
U.S. News, an American media and publishing company that has been rating national universities since 1983 implemented a formula change to help take into account social mobility and outcomes. This resulted in many private research institutions dropping in the rankings, while large public universities climbed up. Changes instituted this year included U.S. News taking into account first-generation students more throughout their rankings. In doing so, U.S. News dropped the old algorithm that took into account class size, proportion of students who borrowed loans, high school class ranking, and alumni giving rate, factors that had previously accounted for about 18% of the university ranking. The U.S. News rankings spanned across 10 different overall rankings by region, type of college, liberal arts versus nonliberal arts schools, and more.
Although these formulaic changes did not seem to alter the top school rankings which tend to be private, the middle of the list is where most of the changes were seen. For example, private institution New York University (NYU) dropped 10 spots in the overall top 500 national ranking compared to last year after new factors were considered in the U.S. News methodology (NYU has not dropped more than a single spot since 2016) while public school University of Texas at San Antonio rose by 92 spots. Boston University also dropped 2 spots in the ranking this year from #41 in national universities to #43.
This new formula by U.S. News poses the question of whether it is helpful in determining where future students may choose to attend or conflating ranking with fit. The U.S. News has faced backlash from previous years as universities find flaws in their ranking system. Last year, Vanderbilt University criticized the U.S News system as it no longer included high school class ranking and faculty with high degree percentages and they did not take into account Vanderbilt’s "Opportunity Vanderbilt" which is one of the top financial aid programs in the United States. This year, there was also a drop in the percentage of selected institutions that continued to provide statistical data to U.S. News from 83.5% to 79.9%. Nonetheless, these rankings do have a sense of validity to them as they consider essential factors of educational institutions such as graduation rates, faculty salaries, borrower debt, full-time faculty, and more. Their newly implemented formula also brings more inclusion for first-generation students.
However, this ranking system does not include factors such as living standards, club availability, class size, and other important details. The system is also not entirely based upon “expert opinions.” Only 20% of the rankings are based on expert opinions which is made upon a peer assessment. So should students genuinely rely on this formula when determining their college path? In reference, Boston University offers a variety of events to students such as “SPLASH” which allows students to join and discover different clubs and groups, but events like this are not considered when U.S. News makes their ranking list. U.S. News does not consider the different factors and quirks that make universities unique. The methodology of U.S. News may be more helpful for students in determining academic standards as their formula does account for graduation performance, standardized tests, and first-year retention rates.
Ultimately, this ranking system raises the question of whether it can fully encapsulate what being a part of each university means for the students if it does not include unique qualities that make institutions stand out. The U.S. News ranking system helps to provide guidelines for students when determining what school may be “better” than another one, through their methodology. However, with the formula changes implemented for the 2024 national college rankings, skepticism around their system continues to rise. Nonetheless, U.S. News has been ranking schools since 1938, establishing a reputation for itself. Their reputation holds weight as they have been the top-ranking system for decades. This can misconstrue how students view colleges, as they automatically assume a school is a better fit for them solely based on the fact it is ranked highly. These rankings may not adequately cover the college as a whole when students make their decisions about how to proceed as they focus more on some issues than others.