Columbia will skip the US News university rankings this year

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Columbia University will skip the US News & World Report college rankings this year, university officials said, as they reviewed data that had been questioned by a professor at the school.

“Columbia leaders take these issues seriously, and we immediately embarked on a review of our data collection and submission process,” said university provost Mary Boyce. wrote Thursday.

In light of this ongoing work, the university will not be submitting to US News this year, Boyce wrote: The deadline was Friday, and given the analysis required to review the data, they could not complete the detailed work needed at that time.

In February, a Columbia math professor, Michael Thaddeus, raised questions on data that Ivy League University had submitted for the National College Rankings. Columbia had risen to second place nationally, tied with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Thaddeus wrote that the school’s extraordinary rise over the years was rewarding, but also made him curious. “I was just wondering: how come we perform so well in this ranking against universities that objectively have certain advantages over us? he said friday by telephone. “They have much larger endowments. They have a lot more physical space.

When he took a closer look, he wrote, he concluded that “several of the key numbers supporting Columbia’s high ranking are inaccurate, questionable, or grossly misleading.” Undergraduate class size was a variable that jumped out at him; from his experience of nearly 25 years at the university, he was skeptical that more than 80% of classes had fewer than 20 students. He extracted the registration numbers, created a spreadsheet and concluded that the percentage was likely considerably lower.

US News & World Report’s Best Colleges and other similar rankings, released annually, are closely watched and used by many prospective students., intensely promoted by ascendant schools – and frequently criticized.

In his February article, Thaddeus quoted Colin S. Diver, who recently wrote a book on the rankings industry, its impact on institutions, and what to do about it: “Rankings create powerful incentives manipulate data and distort institutional behavior.”

“Scandals happen all the time,” Thaddeus said Friday, with people and schools accused of manipulating data. “The system is extremely dysfunctional.”

More fundamentally, he says, it is too difficult to reduce the complexity of academic institutions in a comparable way from place to place. “The greatness of a university is something that simply cannot be measured by linear ranking.”

Diver said that when he was dean of the highly competitive Carey Law School at the University of Pennsylvania, he saw the influence of rankings on admissions decisions, giving an advantage to applicants with standardized test scores. higher. Then he became president of a reputable liberal arts school, Reed College, which has refused to submit information for rankings since the 1990s. It was a relief, he said, but he heard friends from other schools who admired the position but feared they would be “hammered” in the rankings if they did the same.

Reed dropped precipitously after ceasing to submit data, he said.

Last In the fall, Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University, which has topped the list of national universities for more than a decade, wrote that rankings are a problem because they produce “damaging incentives.” For example, some colleges eschew doing difficult but valuable things — like admitting talented low-income students who can thrive in college if given proper support — in favor of simpler strategies more likely to add points. to the US News formula.

He called them a misleading way to rate schools and a “kinda stupid obsession that hurts when colleges, parents, or students take it too seriously.”

Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer at US News & World Report, wrote in an email that “Columbia University’s acknowledgment that it is unable to meet the data standards of US News & World Report for the 2023 Best Colleges Ranking raises a number of questions. We are concerned and are reviewing various options, including reviewing data previously submitted by Columbia, to ensure that our rankings continue to maintain the highest levels of integrity.

“US News is committed to providing quality information about institutions across the country,” Castro said, “so prospective students and their families can make informed decisions as they seek college.”

In Columbia’s statement, Boyce wrote that despite what they believed to be a “thorough process of collecting and reporting institutional data,” they are “now closely reviewing our processes in light of the issues raised” by Thaddeus. “The ongoing review is a matter of integrity,” Boyce wrote. “We won’t take any shortcuts to get it right.”

The university will release a common data set this fall to help students and parents evaluate the school, she wrote.

Thaddeus said he would like to see the university respond to the specific questions he raised.

Diver said he’s glad to see Columbia initiate a review — but he’d rather see them seek an independent audit by a law or accounting firm.

And, he said, “I’d like to see someone like Columbia who has real stature and real visibility step forward and say, ‘You know what? These rankings are arbitrary. They’re anti-intellectual. They are incompatible with our academic values ​​and we will no longer cooperate with them.”

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