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Rating the college rankings

In a post a few days ago, I discussed the recent proliferation of college rankings and ratings and attempted a brief analysis of how each differs from the others.

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education takes that conversation a step further. In an item titled 30 Ways to Rate a College, the publication parses each of the six most prominent college rankings, breaking down each rating system into its component parts.

It's a useful exercise. We learn, for example, that there is no one criterion common to all six raters.

The most popular factor for rating a college is retention, as expressed either in year-to-year retention rates or graduation rates. Four raters consider retention or graduation in their college ratings: U.S. News & World Report (the granddaddy of all college ratings), along with competitor/copycats Forbes, Kiplinger and Washington Monthly.

But the two premiere international rankings, Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities, ignore retention and graduation.

U.S. News, Kiplinger and Washington Monthly consider SAT or ACT scores, but the other three do not.

Only U.S. News and Kiplinger consider admission rates in their rankings, and only U.S. News looks at the reputations of individual colleges. That's a surprise: many people accuse college raters of essentially reaffirming the established pecking order among colleges, of which those factors are perhaps the strongest measures.

The Chronicle adds these observations:

"Notice how few measures are shared by two or more raters. That indicates a lack of agreement among them on what defines quality. Much of the emphasis is on "input measures" such as student selectivity, faculty-student ratio, and retention of freshmen. Except for graduation rates, almost no "outcome measures," such as whether a student comes out prepared to succeed in the work force, are used."

Does College Inc. come up garbled on your Blackberry? Try this address, and bookmark it for easy access.

By Daniel de Vise  |  August 30, 2010; 10:21 AM ET
Categories:  Admissions , Rankings , Research  | Tags: Forbes rankings, Kiplinger rankings, US News rankings, Washington Monthly rankings, best colleges, college rankings, college ratings  
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