U.S. News & World Report:  College Rankings are on the Horizon

The updated U.S. News rankings arrive in early September. If your school drops or, worse, continues a downward trend in rank while your competition is moving up, you may want to read on. Our first piece of advice is to ask you how seriously your institution is taking these rankings.  The second piece of advice is that you should. Prospective students, particularly high achieving students and their parents pay attention to these rankings, and the high volume of traffic on U.S. News website climbs significantly each year. Ergo, your institution is getting a lot of exposure, and you want that to be positive exposure. Moreover, colleges and universities across the nation are facing multiple challenges that may affect their success in recruiting students, including:

  1. Budget woes
  2. Declining applicant pools
  3. Growing student debt, often exacerbated by failure to complete a bachelor’s degree and get a high paying job
  4. Competition from a growing variety of postsecondary providers, e.g., certificates, competency-based learning

A Team Approach to U.S. News Rankings Works Best

Rankings require due diligence involving a number of individuals on your campus working together, not just one office. The various departments whose data are included in the ranking formula should work with Institutional Research to compile, review and verify their rankings data. Having rankings data extracted centrally without careful group review and approval prior to submission is not due diligence. Here are some tips based on my experience in higher education and coordinating rankings team efforts on behalf of university leadership:

  1. Have your team develop a thorough understanding of U.S. News rankings formula data definitions and defaults.
  2. Stay up to date on information provided by U.S. News regarding changes in its rankings methodology.
  3. Analyze annual rankings shifts by your institution, as well as your competitors.
  4. Review and implement best practices in actual performance on the individual metrics in the rankings formula.

Simply put, the myriad responsibilities of Institutional Research and other offices on campus call for a committee-based rankings infrastructure and approach. Institutions can try to incorporate the advice offered above, or if you have questions or are possibly interested in working with our rankings expert, please contact Dr. Gary Lewicki, Consulting Director at focusEDUHe has been working with institutions, ensuring they understand and optimize elements associated with U.S. News rankings data submission and analysis. Gary also served as Assistant Vice-President for Enrollment Planning and Management at the University of Connecticut and conducted research for the Connecticut Department of Higher Education prior to that, He has presented at conferences sponsored by AACRAO, the College Board, and the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange. His research resulted in the Educational Policy Institute awarding UConn the Outstanding Retention Program Award at its RETENTION 2006 national conference. Gary also was named Freshman Year Experience Instructor of the Year while at UConn.

Please review the other two articles on college rankings that Dr. Lewicki has published on this website.

About the Author:

After serving as an Assistant Vice-President for Enrollment Planning and Management at the University of Connecticut (UConn) for the past two decades, focusing primarily on retention and graduation issues, Gary retired in June 2017.

He began his career advising undecided majors at UConn, where he earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. He then moved on to conduct research and interact with the state legislature and governor’s office on behalf of the Connecticut Department of Higher Education for a decade before returning to UConn in 1996.

Since joining focusEDU as a Consulting Director in 2017, Gary has been actively assisting the leaders of the higher education community by ensuring understanding and optimization of all elements associated with U.S. News rankings data submissions.

Gary has presented at numerous conferences sponsored by AACRAO, the College Board, and the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange. The Educational Policy Institute awarded UConn the Outstanding Retention Program Award at its RETENTION 2006 national conference. In 2010-11, Gary was awarded Freshman Year Experience Instructor of the Year honors.

Gary resides in Avon, CT and is very proud of his son, who will soon receive his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Cambridge University.

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