The incentives around college rankings forced universities to take actions during the pandemic that made student experiences worse and more expensive.

College rankings don’t measure aspects of universities that are the most beneficial for students.
They’re mainly based on factors that are determined by wealth, access, privilege, and selectivity.
The pandemic showed how truly broken the system is, yielding worse experiences for students.

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Early September is a blisteringly busy time for colleges and universities, with the start of the new semester and a whole new class of students kicking off the year of studies. But while everyone else is celebrating the start of something new, administrators are wracking their nerves over the results of something old, something they devote a considerable amount of prep to – their own big exam, the one that makes up an enormous amount of their grade: Will this be the year they take a big hit on the US News and World Report rankings?

Though circulation was down to 1.1 million in 2010 from 2 million in 2005, the once-powerful newsweekly commands an outsized presence in our popular understanding of universities.

“US News, of course, was the first one to really monetize rankings. They made huge big business out of rankings,” said Susan Paterno, author of the new book, “Game On: Why College Admission Is Rigged and How to Beat the System”.

When US News develops a rating, they select what is valuable in higher education. When they decide what’s valuable, colleges react, and try to get the numbers up. And when getting the numbers are this important, when they’re translated into a zero-sum ranking against their peers, colleges are incentivized to do things that make the college experience worse and more expensive for students, applicants, and faculty in order to appease that algorithm.

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The birth of rankings

In the 1980s, two businesses emerged that would change higher education permanently: the test prep business, which was largely forged by Stanley Kaplan, who founded the company bearing his last name, and the beginning of the US News and World Report rankings.

As US News began to assign scores to universities using the test scores of admitted students as a proxy for quality, colleges began to desire more and more applicants who tested high.

The universities offered merit-based scholarships and financial incentives to those students, and as a result affluent parents of college applicants would pay for test prep for their kids to get those incentives.

“Even though that metric had nothing to do with the quality of the education that the particular college or university was providing – it was really just a number that describes kids in high school – that metric became the foundation that US News used to measure quality,” Paterno said. “But it was a bogus measure, really.”

Only 20% of the score on its Best Colleges rankings comes from academic instruction and faculty resources.

Optimizing this 20% may still lead to negative outcomes for students. Paying faculty …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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