Published by The Chronicle of Higher Education
For other rankings skeptics—and they are legion—the proliferation is easier to understand. "It’s click bait, basically," contends Richard A. Hesel, principal at the Art & Science Group, a consulting company that works in higher education.
But it’s apparently click bait that resonates. Since 1995 the company has conducted three surveys of prospective college students. Early on, the rankings weren’t that significant a factor in students’ application decisions, but by December 2012 its StudentPoll found that two-thirds of students bound for four-year colleges were taking rankings into account. Among students with the highest SAT scores, it was 85 percent.
Mr. Hesel blames "all the media hype about the rankings, higher education’s own pandering to them, and the intense competitive landscape of college admissions" for the seeming influence of college rankings, even as he argues that most institutions would be better off spending less time worrying about their ranking and more time ensuring they’re providing a valuable student experience and innovative teaching.
According to StudentPoll, which is done in collaboration with ACT, U.S. News was far and away the most influential: 58 percent of those who used a ranking cited it, followed by 21 percent for Princeton Review, 9 percent for Forbes Top Colleges, 5 percent for Thebestcolleges.org, and 8 percent for all others.
For that reason, Mr. Hesel, for one, says he doubts the influx of new rankings will substantially influence students’ college choices or unseat established players like U.S. News.
"People have in their head an idea of where the well-known places stand," he says. Newer ones "won’t have currency."