Malcolm Gladwell & the US News Best College rankings

Malcolm Gladwell & the US News Rankings

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent podcast titled Lord of the Rankings presents a highly critical view of the US News & World Report rankings.  We agree with Gladwell’s overall point but wanted to provide context to his criticism and extend it.

US News is quite transparent with its formula.  Only 20% of a college’s overall score is related to academic performance – how well a college educates its students.  But even that 20% portion isn’t a sound measurement.  Gladwell tears into the survey that generates this 20% saying it “disguises mythology as methodology.”

Our analysis concluded 67% of the US News score – most of the rest of it – was generated by metrics aligned with the socioeconomic status of a school’s students.  These consist of things like admissions selectivity and how much money the college spends.  

The “Best” in US News Best Colleges is part of a “motte-and-bailey” maneuver. Parents and students will often interpret “Best” to mean the schools offering the best education. But the formula shows it is in fact a proxy ranking of class status and wealth dominating a shrunken academic assessment based on a questionable survey.

Read a more about it here.

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