2016 Update: Part 5

Our review of 2016 highlights wraps up with September and October. November and December are too recent to be updated, so I'll leave that task to you during the first quarter of the New Year. So, here we go …

– From September: Who Needs U.S. News?

Excerpts recap:

The College Confidential discussion forum explodes this time every year with an avalanche of frantically defended guesses as to which schools will top the rankings' lists and which schools have “gone up" or down. It's an annual rite at CC.

As you may have gathered from some of my past posts here, I am not a fan of these (or other) rankings. They're just too arbitrary and hide behind a confusing barrage of methodology rationale, especially that of U.S. News.

Today, I'd like to share information from two sources. The first is a very interesting article, 14 Reasons Why US News College Rankings are Meaningless, that presents as good an argument I've seen against the U.S.News approach.

The second is a press release from Hampshire College, in Massachusetts: “Hampshire Reports Results of No-SAT No-ACT Admissions Strategy; US News Disqualification Continues." Apparently, a college can prosper without being part of the U.S. News circus.

First, let me highlight seven of my favorite 14 Reasons for you. I'll also include a portion of the article's reasoning behind each one. You can click the link above to see all 14 plus the full explanation for each one.

1. Unstable rankings and irregular shifts continue to be a problem for US News.

People in higher ed have been complaining about these unreliable measures for over 20 years. Here is a personal letter from the president of Stanford University in 1996, directly criticizing the USNWR college rankings for their inconsistencies.

3. Flawed metrics have persisted for over a decade.

This study, all the way back in 2002, offered constructive fixes for most of the flaws in the US News rankings, with suggestions for improved methodology and examples of better metrics to adopt … the people working [at U.S. News] to improve them are not successfully doing so. In short, no. They have not fixed the problem.

4. Moving up the rankings has nothing to do with improving the student's experience.

This “success story" about Northeastern University climbing the US News rankings actually points out flaws in the system. Tangible actions and investments that would lead to more attention per student, a more diverse campus and different mix of residence/commuter students, better facilities, more resources, and new amenities didn't actually budge the ranking …

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6. Failure to consider student debt load.

Student loans are an inevitable part of the college experience for many students, therefore student debt is as well. The US News college rankings, however, leave this measure out completely. They publish a “Short List" where you can find which schools will leave you with the most debt, but this is ultimately unhelpful when not factored into the overall rankings.

10. When colleges refuse to participate, US News penalizes them.

When schools don't report their numbers, USNWR simply plugs in their own measures and assigns a lower rank… despite nothing actually changing on campus. Colin Dover, who has served as president at Reed College and Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, details his experience with the rankings, as a participant and a bystander …

12. Schools know how to work the system… and they do.

In his article, Robert Woodbury describes 10 ways to climb up the rankings (and he proves how skewed they are in the process) and he says, “The ranking of colleges and universities by neat formulae and dubious statistical measures is distorting, illusory and, ultimately, harmful to democratic values we all share." This witty and brutally honest article speaks for itself and is worth the read.

14. When students choose colleges based on US News rankings, they're in trouble.

… Purportedly objective rankings can cause students to choose or feel pushed toward “best" colleges that will not necessarily be the best learning environment for them and, in turn, lead them to either change their major or, even worse, drop out of school …


As my readers know, I'm an anti-rankings guy. I've stated this as clearly as I can in a number of blog posts over the eight years I've been blogging here. I search now and then for views with pro and con about rankings, but recently I just found one that hits a bigger nail on the head than I probably have: U.S. News's corrupt college rankings. Accordingly, here are some highlights from their stance and update for your consideration:

THE ANNUAL “America's Best Colleges" issue of U.S. News & World Report is to the newsmagazine what the annual “Swimsuit Issue" is to Sports Illustrated. Both are best sellers that make big money for their publishers. And both succeed because they are sexy, glamorous, superficial and largely without redeeming social value. But “America's Best Colleges" has evolved into something else, too: a universally recognized barometer and instigator of major higher-education trends, many of them perverse.

At colleges across the nation, presidents and their staffs, trustees and special university task forces analyze one year's U.S. News charts and immediately begin plotting how they might raise their college's standing in the next issue. This is not surprising; the results of a rise in rank are significant, and the consequences of a dramatic fall can be severe.

U.S. News bases it rankings on multiple statistical measuring sticks, each with a different weighting, arrayed across seven major categories. These include: academic reputation, student selectivity, student retention, faculty resources, financial resources, alumni giving and graduation rates.

Following are some strategies that colleges across America could adopt, if they haven't already, to improve their scores on one or more of these measuring sticks — and, thereby, raise their rankings. These strategies should carry warning labels, however, because most contribute to bad public policy and undermine the integrity of the institution itself. Any college or university adopting these strategies should not be naive about the questionable role they are playing in a bigger game …

Reject as many as possible. The second half of the selectivity equation is to accept the lowest percentage of those who apply, which means disappointing as many applicants as possible. The trick is to not accept any applicant who won't actually enroll (called “yield" by professionals) or, as at least one institution has tried, turn down those who are most able and most likely to go elsewhere. To minimize turndowns from students, colleges can: use as many early-decision dates as possible; pay careful attention to clues from interviews or prior applicant profiles; use financial or other inducements with wavering students; recognize that amenities like classy dormitories are more persuasive than numbers of periodicals in the library; and actively recruit the “chosen."

Spend money. This is not a game for those who would conserve resources, encourage efficiency, preserve capital for the long run or control the escalation of tuition rates. The gross amount of resources per student, largely irrespective of how it is spent, is a critical measure in the ratings game. So raising tuition, increasing the amount and variety of fees, seeking a quick jump in the annual fund, and taking a larger percentage yield from endowment can be productive strategies, at least in the short run. If the university's reputation rises, then the long run will take care of itself.

Let SATs reign. The currency of the day, whatever the controversies and protestations, boils down to test scores and high-school grades. If a college's average SAT or ACT scores (as well as high-school-class ranks) are going up, its ratings will rise; if its average scores are in decline, its rank will probably decline as well. One easy strategy is to make SAT or ACT submissions voluntary, which, quite logically, tends to raise the average of those submitted. A more comprehensive strategy is simply to “buy" students with higher scores. Through liberal use of merit awards, tuition discounts and other manipulations of financial-aid systems, one can target those applicants with higher scores who tend to be wealthier, whiter and less eligible for need-based financial aid …

… Change the rules or change the league. U.S. News tinkers with its formulae every year and listens carefully to suggestions from the stream of college presidents who visit or contact its offices annually. Over the years, presidents have argued for — and won — changes in the system that, not surprisingly, enhance the standings of their institutions. A far bolder scheme, which has worked for some institutions, is to change the peer group in which a college is placed. A common one in the past was to engineer a switch from the category of Public Comprehensive to Public Liberal Arts; today, one might move from Public Bachelor's to Public Liberal Arts. Several colleges, voila!, have suddenly risen from a mediocre standing in a former classification to a top ranking, often on a “regional" basis, in their new categorical home …

… The ranking of colleges and universities by neat formulae and dubious statistical measures is distorting, illusory and, ultimately, harmful to democratic values we all share. The real losers are, once again, the less advantaged among us. And when they lose, we all lose.

This article was written by Robert L. Woodbury, former chancellor of the University of Maine System and originally appeared in Connection, the journal of the New England Board of Higher Education. I just cited a few of Woodbury's cogent points. Read the entire article for a dramatic revelation of perspective on rankings, particularly those of U.S. News.


– From October: College Confidential's Road Trip

Excerpts recap:

College Confidential co-founder, Roger Dooley, made an announcement last week:

College Confidential is transitioning to Hobsons' longtime partner, Roadtrip Nation, an organization dedicated to helping students succeed in school and in life. (Learn more here.)

Founded by three college students who hit the road post-college to try and find their own paths, Roadtrip Nation has grown into a national television series, educational curriculum, a range of best selling books, and an online content archive that are all focused on empowering students to define their own roads in life. The alignment of CC's college information resources with Roadtrip Nation's career exploration focus I think is incredibly exciting for CC students looking to build more intention and meaning into their college search.

What does this mean for CC and its members? In the near term, expect our community to carry on as usual. Looking to the future, though, I see a more vibrant CC. I know Roadtrip is very interested in growing the community and its value to students everywhere. I know they will help CC keep improving the ways we help our student and parent members.

Some of you know that CC was independent until 2008, when it was acquired by Hobsons. Joining forces with Hobsons allowed us to build a much stronger and more reliable infrastructure, and now, the transition to Roadtrip Nation is adding an entirely new student-focused dimension to CC.

Stand by for more information in the coming weeks. Here's to the road ahead!

This is big news for those of us — and you — who have been loyal CC fans, some of you since its inception, August 1, 2001. For those unfamiliar with Roadtrip (one word) Nation, here's some detail that should stimulate your interest.

You may have seen Roadtrip Nation on PBS television.

For the uninitiated, then, this quick trip through their Web site may help you get ready for your adventure.

How about their mission?

For 15 years, we've made it our mission to talk with professionals of every kind and ask the questions that no one is asking—honest questions about their struggles, successes, and how they figured out the age-old dilemma, “What should I do with my life?"

From video game designers to lawyers, sports journalists to STEM professionals, and everything in between, we've sought out untold stories and shared them. These stories form the basis of our career exploration products—including an educational curriculum, personalized online tools, video content, bestselling books, and live events. Together, these tools create a diverse and relevant collection of resources showing young people the vast scope of careers and possibilities.

What about the team?

We're a ragtag team of coffee-swilling creatives driven by mutual collaboration, long-term impact, and the idea that anyone can pursue what they love. Find us mid-brainstorm with Post-its slapped to every surface or emailing each other vital information in the form of cat memes. We're on a mission to create a world where people are true to themselves—and that's what gets us out of our cozy beds every day.

Do they have a book?

“This New York Times Bestseller welcome antidote to the conventional career guide answers the old question—'So, what are you going to do with your life?'—in a groundbreaking way. From the team behind the campus and online resource and the inspirational TV series in its eleventh season, ROADMAP helps emerging careerists think deeply about how they can enter the workforce and thrive, using Roadtrip Nation's interest-based approach. Full-color charts and graphs offer a unique visually engaging reading experience and prompts for reflection are interspersed, making the reading process interactive and the discoveries personally impactful. Interviews and advice from over 130 leaders including Ahmir Questlove, Jad Abumrad and Soledad O'Brien show how they found their path and provide inspiration for every person to find your own. With actionable, real-world wisdom on every page, it's an essential tool for today's young professionals and the parents, educators, and advisors seeking to inspire them." [Amazon overview]

What is their story?

“It all started with a beat-up 1985 RV."

Don't know what to do with your life? Don't worry, Nathan, Mike, and Brian didn't either.

So after college, they bought a mechanically questionable RV, painted it green, and decided to travel the country asking people who do what they love how they figured it out.

15 years later, that road trip has become an organization dedicated to helping people find career and life fulfillment. In our fleet of RVs, we crisscross the globe, journeying from rugged back roads to sleek superhighways, subsisting off unnaturally colored gas station snacks, sleeping in any empty parking lot we can find—just so we can talk to the people who figured out how to build a career around their own unique combination of interests.

We've talked to everyone from Supreme Court justices to lobstermen and used their insights to shape every career resource we make. The goal? To give you the tools to live a life doing what matters to you …


Roadtrip Nation on Public Television

About the Series: Sick of people telling you who to be? Define your own Road. That's the premise behind this annual documentary series which follows young people as they Roadtrip across the country to figure out their lives by interviewing inspiring people who have stayed true to themselves.

Roadtrip Nation Live

About Roadtrip Nation Live: Come on in. Like the title says, we've opened the doors to our home and invited in Leaders to share their stories with a live audience. Sit back, make yourself at home, and soak up some insight into your own path.

About Roadtrip Nation Live:

Come on in. Like the title says, we've opened the doors to our home and invited in Leaders to share their stories with a live audience. Sit back, make yourself at home, and soak up some insight into your own path.

About Public Television: Season 13

Meet Natalie, Robin, and Zoed. They're computer science students who come from backgrounds underrepresented in tech—and they're on a mission to not just break into the industry, but diversify it. Eager to discover the career possibilities in this rapidly growing field—and encourage other women and minorities to do the same—they embark on a journey that proves you don't have to fit mold to make it in tech; anyone has the potential to be a driver of innovation, discovery, and progress.

So, grab your duffle bag and some sandwiches and join Roadtrip Nation for the ride of your life, wherever it will lead!


He's wishing all of you a very Happy New Year in 2017 along with happiness, health, and prosperity. It's been a genuine pleasure writing for you here this year (and every year). And, yes, I'm eager to Admit This!


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.