When U.S. News & World Report debuted its list of “America’s Best Colleges” nearly 30 years ago, the magazine hoped its college rankings would be a game-changer for students and families. But arguably, they’ve had a much bigger effect on colleges themselves…
Yes, students and families still buy the guide and its less famous competitors by the hundreds of thousands, and still care about a college’s reputation. But it isn’t students who obsess over every incremental shift on the rankings scoreboard, and who regularly embarrass themselves in the process. It’s colleges…
…While U.S. News cross-checks some data with other sources, it relies largely on colleges themselves to provide it. Modest forms of fudging through data selection are undeniably common, especially in law school rankings. The most high-profile case of outright cheating involved Iona University in New York, which acknowledged last fall submitting years of false data that boosted its ranking from around 50th in its category to 30th.
But most rankings critics say by far the most pernicious failure of colleges isn’t blatant cheating, but what they do more openly — allowing the rankings formula to drive their goals and policies.
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