Many Stories Hidden Inside US News College Rankings

For some colleges it is a red-letter day and for others it can be the blackest day of the year. But for every college, the day that US News & World Report releases its annual college rankings is one of consequence.

While competition over the top places continues to be fierce, the question of who will make it to the top five has – at least for the last two decades – lacked suspense. This year, it is no different as Princeton University snatches the first place from Harvard University. The usual suspects quickly follow with Yale University in 3rd place, Columbia in 4th and the incubator of West Coast's tech talent, Stanford University, coming in 5th.

That isn't to say that the list doesn't have some interesting stories to tell, but those can be found towards the middle and the bottom of the rankings rather than the top. Nick Anderson of The Washington Post attempts to tease them out by providing a run-down of the biggest gainers and losers over the last three years. The biggest leap from 2010 to today is San Diego State which rose 31 places to number 152. At 128 is Polytechnic Institute of New York University which – along with University of Massachusetts at Lowell (158) – jumped 25 places over the same period.

Not everyone institution is on the way up, though.

Now, the major decliners:

●Howard University had the largest drop, down 38 spots, to 142.
●Down 25: University of La Verne (to 161). Down 22: Widener University (to 181). Down 20: Utah State University (to 190). Down 19: Colorado School of Mines (to 91).
●Down 18: Kent State University (to 201); University of California-Riverside (to 112); Montana State University (to 201).
●Down 17: Washington State University (to 128).
●Down 15: St. Louis University (to 101).

Like Anderson, Lynn O'Shaughnessy of CBS MarketWatch is also looking for a story, but hers is that no amount of benefits delivered by the list could offset the harm it does to students — especially those least able to afford a college education.

Schools care deeply about inching up U.S. News' college rankings and this is reflected in how they spend their money. Institutions have been focused on devoting more of their revenue to attract students with higher test scores, class rankings and grade point averages. That's to impress the rankings king.

Consequently, public and private colleges and universities have been pouring a growing amount of money into merit scholarships for affluent students at the expense of students who desperately need financial help.

09 18, 2013
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