Columbia Ends Cooperation With U.S. News College Rankings

From a Washington Post story by Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga headlined “Columbia University ends cooperation with U.S. News college rankings”:

Columbia University said it will not submit data to the U.S. News & World Report ranking of undergraduate colleges and universities, posing the latest challenge to a publication known for listings that shape the hierarchy of higher education.

The announcement comes about nine months after the Ivy League school in New York disclosed that it had misstated key points about class size and faculty credentials as it climbed to the second-ranked position on a U.S. News list of national universities. Amid the embarrassment, the university had halted its data submission to U.S. News while it reviewed the matter. It sank last fall to 18th place.

Separately, many prominent law schools and medical schools around the country in recent months have announced they will no longer cooperate with U.S. News rankings in their fields. Columbia’s law and medical schools joined in those rebellions. Its nursing school also declined to cooperate with U.S. News.

Now, Columbia is staking out a more defiant position on the undergraduate rankings. Officials said the process of correcting missteps they acknowledged last year had helped the university reach a new reckoning.

University Provost Mary C. Boyce and three senior academic deans lamented in a statement the “outsized influence” that rankings may have with prospective students and “how they distill a university’s profile into a composite of data categories. Much is lost in this approach.”

The officials added: “We are convinced that synthesizing data into a single U.S. News submission for its Best Colleges rankings does not adequately account for all of the factors that make our undergraduate programs exceptional.” The university said it will continue a practice it began last year of making public detailed information about its undergraduate academic programs.

But Columbia will not cooperate with U.S. News data requests or respond to its surveys aiming to gauge the reputation of undergraduate programs elsewhere. The university also noted that admissions policies could be reassessed after the Supreme Court rules in a pending case on affirmative action.

U.S. News said it would continue to rank all eligible schools, including Columbia.

“Despite the invaluable assistance our rankings offer to students nationwide, our critics tend to attribute every issue faced by academia — including the impending Supreme Court case mentioned in Columbia’s announcement — to our rankings,” Eric Gertler, executive chairman and chief executive of U.S. News, said in a statement. “Students deserve to have a place where they can equitably compare schools to help determine which college is the best fit for them.”

U.S. News has tinkered with its ranking formulas in response to objections schools have raised. On May 19, the publication said it will no longer include data on alumni donations, class size, the high school standing of admitted students and the share of faculty with terminal degrees as part of its undergraduate rankings. Instead, U.S. News said it would put more weight on how much success colleges have in graduating students from different backgrounds.

Many graduate schools that objected to the rankings, including Yale Law School, were unmoved by changes U.S. News made.

Some schools, including Colorado College, have declared opposition to U.S. News undergraduate rankings. It was unclear whether Columbia’s announcement would spark a further rebellion. Boycotting is not necessarily an easy step to take. It can affect who applies to a school. Many alumni and governing boards also pay close attention to how their schools stack up in the rankings.

Princeton University, long ranked No. 1 by U.S. News, customarily submits data to the publication. However, the university’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, has said he does not respond to the U.S. News reputational survey. Eisgruber has called the rankings a “slightly daft obsession that does harm when colleges, parents, or students take it too seriously.”

With the new rankings methodology announced in the spring, “It’s pretty clear that what U.S. News is doing is to rely on data that’s publicly available in other sources, so they’re no longer dependent on schools submitting their data,” said Colin Diver, former president of Reed College and author of a book about rankings.

“U.S. News has got an incredibly valuable franchise,” he said. “They’re not going to give up without a huge fight.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education and other education topics for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

Susan Svrluga is a reporter covering higher education for The Washington Post. Before that, she covered education and local news at The Post.

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