Atop the Latest ‘U.S. News’ Survey, a Higher Response Rate and the Usual Winners

This week U.S. News & World Report released their annual rankings of “America’s Best Colleges,” amid one of the most tumultuous admission cycles in history. Approximately 3 million students are entering colleges and universities this Fall. However, given the current economy environment and the scarcity of financial aid, many students have been forced to downsize their college dreams, opting for a state school instead of “big name” institutions.

Sadly, it’s not just students and families who are feeling the pressure. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, endowments are down by an average of 23%–the worst decline since the mid 1970s– and many institutions have had to lay off staff, freeze wages and halt construction. Public colleges in cash-strapped states are under so much financial pressure that some schools, like Fresno State University in California, have unexpectedly moved up their admissions deadlines to limit the number of students who could enroll.

Fortunately, if students are thinking about the quality of their college experience solely in terms of rankings or prestige, they may be missing the point. While high-ranking schools do offer fantastic programs, it’s more important that students match their career goals to the school’s curriculum rather than to prestige. In the end, what matters most is the quality of students’ college experiences, which stem from their willingness to engage in their education, commit to learning and actively take part in classes that challenge them. In the final analysis, it’s not so much where you go to college that counts, it’s what you do while you’re there.

by Elyse Ashburn

College participation in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings increased this year, after reaching its lowest level ever last year. Forty-eight percent of college leaders who were sent the peer-assessment survey responded this year, up from 46 percent.

The peer survey—the most controversial part of the rankings formula—asks presidents, provosts, and admissions deans to rate institutions on a scale of 1 to 5. The response rate has dropped from 68 percent in 1999, amid a steady drumbeat of anti-rankings rhetoric.

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