US News & World Report changing up its college ranking methodology

US News & World Report recently announced changes to how it ranks colleges:

  • The “student selectivity” portion of the methodology will count for 12.5 percent of a college’s total, not 15 percent.
  • Within the student selectivity formula, class rank will count for 25 percent, not 40 percent. The change is attributed to the increase in the proportion of high schools that do not report class rank. SAT/ACT scores, meanwhile, rise to 65 percent from 50 percent of that score. (The rest isn’t explained but has in the past been based on colleges’ acceptance rates.)
  • Graduation rate performance (a measure that attempts to reward colleges for doing better than expected with their student body) will be applied to all colleges, not just the “national” ones at the top of the rankings.
  • “Peer assessment” — one of the most widely criticized criteria, based on a survey of presidents — will be cut from 25 to 22.5 percent of the formula for evaluating regional colleges. (One of the questions U.S. News declined to answer was whether there would be any change in the weighting for national universities.)
  • Graduation and retention rates will matter more for national universities, going from 20 percent to 22.5 percent.

This would really get interesting if these changes lead to significant shake-ups in the rankings. If some colleges move up quite a bit and, perhaps more importantly, others fall (knowing that people/institutions would feel a loss harder than an equivalent gain), there could be a lot of discussion. It would probably lead to schools that drop decrying the changes while colleges that rise would praise the new system.

It is too bad we don’t get an explanation of why these changes were made. The validity of the methodology is always in question but US News could at least try to make a case.

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