Rankings Links & Information
The following books, articles, and web sources are intended to provide background
information to help you understand some of the pitfalls of college rankings and to use ranking
services in an appropriate manner.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive, retrospective bibliography. Older
items may be dropped off as new ones are added. You should be able to obtain most of the items
below at your local library. Additional sources of information about rankings may be found on our
Caution & Controversy
page. If you would like to suggest items for inclusion on this page, please send them to
Nancy O'Brien, Education and Social Science Library,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Items Containing Rankings | Items About Rankings
The article discusses the June 2007 issue of Consumers Digest Magazine which rankings the top 100 college and university values in the United States. PR-inside highlights the Consumers Digest's Top 5 Best Values in Public Colleges, Top 5 Best Values in Private Colleges and Universities and Top 5 Best Values in Private Liberal Arts Schools.
Ranks top graduate and professional programs in over 100 academic areas. Separate sections cover schools of law, medicine, and health-related professions. Also included are lists of "approved" engineering and business management schools, a rating of U.S. research libraries and overall rankings of U.S. and international graduate schools. The methodology of this popular ranking source has been questioned widely. This title is no longer published.
Ranks undergraduate programs in over 100 individual disciplines, as well as the top universities in the broader realm of pre-legal and pre-medical education. Includes a section on university administrative areas (e.g., libraries, alumni associations) and international universities. This title is no longer published.
This edited compilation provides information and statistics taken from numerous sources. Highly selective, the editor has carefully chosen sources that are broadly recognized as authoritative. The criteria used for these rankings address myriad perspectives from which one might want information to judge an institution's educational quality reputation, admissions selectivity, alumni achievement, test scores, tuition rates, faculty publications and salaries, as well as other topics regarding the the potential quality of education. Includes source information, the number of entries in the ranking, and brief criteria used for rankings. Over 3,600 institutions are ranked and listed. An extensive index includes subject terms as well as institutions being ranked. A reputable source of rankings providing a wealth of information. As of 2006, this title is no longer published.
This article proposes an alternative method of ranking of political science departments by focusing on "the quantity and impact of their publications in the 63 main political science journals in a given five-year period." Note: This form of rankings only ranks publications published in political science journals. The author's method produces a new series of rankings for political science departments worldwide, but focuses solely on English-language journals.
An annual publication from the Center for Measuring University Performance. It offers their assessment of the best public universities based on total research and development; federally sponsored research and development; national academy members; Guggenheim and Fulbright awards; Ph.D.'s awarded; postdoctoral students; and National Merit and National Achievement Scholars.
A very comprehensive study of the research doctorate programs in selected fields. An index to the fields of study covered appears in the back. Statistical information on the program is given, as well as a relative ranking of the schools in the field for the programs included. Education is not covered although many social science fields are.
In this article, SmartMoney reports on their attempt to quantify the long-term value of a college education, with the goal to spotlight the relationship between tuition costs and graduates' earning power. Their results suggest that public universities may be a better deal than private universities.
This site provides an overall ranking of the nation's leading universities on their comparative success in bringing African Americans into the ranks of higher education. Highly quantitative, the rankings are based on thirteen categories including the total black student enrollment (graduate and undergraduate), the five-year progress of the university in black student enrollment, the black student graduation rate, and the university-wide percentage of blacks among the tenured faculty. The article provides the reader with a careful explanation of the purpose and methodology of the rankings. It also contains a brief history of African Americans in higher education both as students and faculty. The article offers results and commentary on the performance for each of the 26 universities and discusses the limitations of the rankings.
Ross, Rachel. "
New Mobility, September 1998.
For persons with disabilities, choosing a college means more than simply evaluating an institution's academic offerings. This article helps students assess the disability-friendliness of public institutions, evaluating them on such criteria as accessible classrooms, transportation, living accommodations, personal assistance services, and adaptive sports. Although these rankings are outdated, the criteria used for evaluating these institutions is useful in judging the current level of accessibility of colleges and universities. The site provides an introduction to campus accessibility issues, charts of available services, outlines of the institutions including links to their home pages, tables describing the physical accessibility of each campus, and more.
The first edition of a planned annual feature. The centerpiece is a table ranking the top 200 universities throughout the world. In a deliberate attempt to keep things simple, scores were calculated using 5 scales: peer review (based on a survey of faculty throughout the world; accounting for 50% of the total score), research impact (measuring citations per faculty; 20% of total score), faculty/student ratio (20% of total score), percentage of international faculty (5%), and percentage of international students (5%). A number of short articles in this 15 page feature futher elaborate on these rankings, offering discussions of individual scales and regions. (Note: This feature is available online, but requires a Times Higher Education Supplement subscription.)
This annual, despite its pitfalls, provides a good jumping-off point to the world of graduate rankings. Rankings have been categorized by subject area--Business, Law, Medicine & Health, Education, Engineering, Library Science, and Ph.D.s. Included is a directory of over 1000 graduate programs by subject and state, methodology of their rankings and an index. (See articles below and our own Caution & Controversy page for more on critical analysis of US News & World Report and rankings in general.)
US News & World Report.
America's best colleges
. Washington, DC : U.S. News & World Report, 1998- (Annual Publication)
Updated annually, this site contains extensive information about colleges and universities in the United States, including selected undergraduate programs. The list is divided both by region and by category (National Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Schools and Top Public Schools). Factors such as diversity, specialty schools/programs (ranked and non-ranked), and state-by-state results are ranked separately. A searchable index also provides access to the site's contents. Be sure to check our Caution and Controversy page to learn more about the ranking methods utilized by U.S. News & World Report. Beginning in 2002, much of the information formerly provided free became available for purchase only from this site.
A brief assessment of the "Academic Ranking of World Universities," a university ranking initiative of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. The Shanghai Rankings were originally developed to compare Chinese universities with others worldwide, with particular reference to academic and research performance. Questions such as how the rankings are perceived by the academic community and how its evaluation criteria differs from the Times Higher Education Supplement's World University Rankings are explored.
The authors of this study present a representative model of a new college ranking system based on student preferences, posited to be an improvement over current ranking systems. The authors surveyed "3,240 highly meritorious students" about their choices of which of the schools they were admitted to they decided to attend. The researchers attempted to determine what factors students and their parents value in order to produce an example of a new aggregated assessment which would allow schools to more effectively market themselves and recruit new students.
Bastedo, Michael N. and Bowman, Nicholas A. "U.S. News & World Report College
Rankings: Modeling Institutional Effects on Organizational Reputation."
American Journal of Education, v116 n2 (February 2010): p. 163-183.
This study uses U.S. News & world Report's College Rankings to determine any potential distortions generated by previous ranking results. It explores the impact of these rankings on expert opinions, and the consequent impact on future rankings, through peer assessment. The influence of the report's overall rankings and tier ratings are quantitatively evaluated for their impact on developing future opinions.
This article discusses the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions, 16 principles of good practice which are meant to serve as guidelines for groups that produce rankings. These principles were created by an international group of educators, higher-education experts, and publishers.
This article discusses some of the flaws in law school rating systems, which the author sees as distorted by school rankings, and suggests appropriate benchmarks that can be used for more rigorous and accurate ratings systems that are reasonably objective, methodologically sound, and illuminating in their results.
According to the author, traditional college rankings often exclude measures that would be most helpful to students, instead focusing on the fame, wealth, and exclusivity of ranked universities. New research and advances in technology in the last few years have lead to new metric and data sources to measure how well universities are preparing undergraduate students. This report explains what the new measures can show, how those measures can be combined into new college rankings, and why the new rankings would benefit both students and colleges.
This article describes a discussion between the author and an official from a North African country about higher education institutions in the United States. The author describes the problems that this official was encountering when comparing U.S. schools, the reasons why people turn to rankings for assistance, and how rankings can help people make informed decisions about schools.
"Some deans are fed up with law school ratings by U.S. News & World Report and have launched an anti-ranking campaign. Others pay lip service to those efforts while figuring out how to boost their own positions on the list. " (from the magazine)
Using Guy Debord's "theory of the spectacle" to examine college rankings, the authors identify three processes: abstraction, valuation and legitimation, that place the U.S. News Rankings in the context of spectacle.
This analysis examines two criticisms commonly leveled against the U.S. News ranking methodology: that the weight-and-sum method arbitrarily weighs certain factors higher than others, and that the "false precision" of overall scores creates the impression of fine distinctions among schools where none may actually exist. It finds empirical support for both of these criticisms through statistical analysis, and concludes with suggestions for "improving the interpretability and usefulness of the rankings," including reevaluating the weighting system and doing away with the single overall score.
This article addresses the the college ranking conundrum in an Asian setting by examining the unique and fascinating case of Asiaweek's annual survey of Asia's best universities. The extra variables of economic diversity, social history, and national pride all add spice to the normally difficult process of ranking schools. The author addresses these issues in a wide ranging article which provides an excellent introduction for the uninitiated.
Examines and compares national university rankings systems or league tables from Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, to address the role of public policies concerning the rankings. This article raises the questions: is there an international agreement on the measurement of academic quality across these ranking systems? What impact do the ranking systems have on the university and academic behavior in their countries? What is the role of public policy in the creation and distribution of rankings systems?
This article contains two perspectives on the college rankings debate, written by Colin Diver, president of Reed College, and Kevin Carey, a researcher at Education Sector. Diver discusses reasons why the U.S. News rankings are disliked and what colleges should be prepared for if they choose not to participate. Carey discusses the options of accepting these rankings, faults and all, or creating a newer, better, rankings regime.
This article examines the data used in the often cited National Research Council (NRC) publication, Research Doctorate Programs in the United States, Continuity and Change. The authors identify problems with the NRC study's data quality and interpretation.
The above link will take you to an abstract of the paper and will allow you to download an Adobe PDF version of the work.
The United States higher education system is known throughout the world for its competitiveness, and rankings add to this environment. Institutions competing for top rankings may forgo cooperation with other institutions, which can be detrimental to both the student and the institution as well as higher education, in general. This article examines the role of the U.S. News and World Report rankings and its methodology in this competitive atmosphere and also what changes could be made to encourage cooperation.
This article uses the example of law school rankings to demonstrate how public measures such as rankings change expectations and permeate institutions, suggesting why it is important for scholars to investigate the impact of these measures more systematically.
"Many college officials are asking hard questions about the methodology and effect of the 'U.S. News' rankings. One complaint: The survey overwhelmingly favors private institutions."
This article critically examines the methodology of the U.S. News and World Report rankings. With special attention to the ranking's assessment of research universities, the report analyzes each of the sixteen measures of academic excellence used in the 2002 rankings and suggests alternative measures for improvement.
For readers who understand and enjoy statistics, this article offers insight into the statistical principles involved in comparing institutions along various lines. While focusing mainly on medical institutions, the article does offer general observations on inter-institutional comparison and counsels caution in interpreting apparent differences.
This opinion piece by the authors of the book listed directly below offers interesting insights into the topic of reputational rankings. The authors conclude with the following paragraph. "There is something unseemly and petty in the spectacle of academics squabbling over whose department or program is higher in the pecking order. The purpose of the next N.R.C. study should not be to fuel yet another round of warfare over professorial status. Instead, it should be to provide useful information -- to political and business leaders, foundations and professional associations, scholars and administrators, and students -- about which programs are the most productive in creating new knowledge."
This book explores the post-World War II rise to prominence of the American research university, presenting historical analysis, as well as providing comparisons and rankings of public and private universities. Indicators used as evaluation criteria are: "Federal R&D obligations, journal publications in all fields, journal publications in top-rated science and top-rated social science journals, and arts and humanities awards" (p. 236). The book contains tables illustrating rankings, extensive notes, and a bibliography.
"...[I]dentified and evaluated rankings sources in the area of higher education." (Hattendorf, Lynn C. (1986) Educational Rankings).
This book is an excellent source for those interested in the topic of higher education quality. Of special note for individuals interested in rankings is Chapter One, "Perspectives on Academic Program Quality." Here the authors identify five areas of emphasis which are often used in evaluating program quality or ranking colleges and universities; faculty, resources, student quality and effort, curriculum requirements, and a multidimensional or multilevel view.
This article examines college rankings in the light of social responsibility. It looks at the divide between public universities and community colleges and the "glamour schools", elite, wealthy institutions, such as those in the Ivy League. The author questions the role of rankings in maintaining the divide and in the corporatization of higher education.
"College guidebook publishers have come under great scrutiny as the number of such publications has increased. The burden of survey response is felt by the institutions that are called upon to fulfill various requests for information, often involving a number of formats. In this chapter, four major publishers of college guidebooks respond to the issues raised in the previous chapters." (from New Directions for Institutional Research)
This article discusses the reasons behind 80 liberal arts colleges electing no longer to take part in commercial rankings such as the U.S. News & World Report's rankings.
Discusses a change in the ranking methodology of the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges to include the views of high-school counselors in its measure of "academic reputation."
"The limited research available and the observations and experiences of admissions officers suggest that guidebooks and ratings have a small to negligible impact on most students considering colleges and universities." (from New Directions for Institutional Research)
"While college and university rankings are growing in their frequency and popularity, greater understanding about how these ranking systems function is needed to ensure accountability and greater transparency." (from abstract)
"This issue brief seeks to understand the role that rankings play in institutional decision making and how institutions in various countries use rankings in ways that might benefit higher education in the United States." (from executive summary)
This article is a review of the two most publicly visible international ranking systems, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University 'Academic Ranking of World Universities' and the Times Higher Education Supplement 'World University Rankings'.
IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence.
The International Ranking Expert Group (IREG) developed a set of guidelines, called the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions, for people to evaluate the quality and criteria in school rankings.
This article examines the effect of ascribed factors on the ranking of sociology departments in the National Research Council's ranking of research doctorate programs. The author concludes that factors which should be irrelevant such as whether a school has the word "State" in its name do have an effect when sociologists assess departments' reputations.
This article discusses the controversy of Arizona State University instituting an incentive bonus (equaling $60,000) for the university's president if their university improves in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
While many university administrators and faculty members have serious problems with U.S. News-type lists, it is clear that rankings are here to stay. Jennings provides a concise summary of the controversies surrounding rankings, and then examines strategies institutions have used to deal with them. He discusses the challenges faced by university and college communicators over whether to publicize their rankings status or not, and those faced by administrators over whether to make decisions with the specific goal of improving their rankings. Both of these dilemmas reflect the tension between resisting and acknowledging the very real influence of rankings.
Abstract (from ERIC): A 1994 U.S. News and World Report ranking examines professional schools of social work and compares the findings with those of 8 other attempts to rank social work schools in the last 20 years. Results indicate that the assessment measures used were primarily faculty products (for example, articles published), and that the reputational studies involve academics' opinions of their colleagues. (Author/MSE)
Through a somewhat complicated statistical analysis comparing U.S. News and World Report's rankings to a formula developed by University of Pennsylvania researchers to measure a college or university's position in the higher education market, this article argues that the U.S. News rankings capture market forces (demand, financial resources, price, etc.) more so than the overall "quality" of an institution. A key additional finding is that, in place of the complicated U.S. News formula, just two factors can be used to create a close approximation of the rankings: six-year graduation rate and peer review score.
"Paradoxically, while higher education leaders are quick to criticize the annual rankings of American colleges and universities by U.S. News & World Report, their institutions aggressively use the rankings to promote themselves in the race for prestige and visibility." (from Change)
"An examination of one of the most popular publications that rate and rank collegiate undergraduate education reveals several methodological concerns. The challenge for consumers and researchers include understanding what shortcomings exist in these rankings, what impact these shortcomings have on the rankings, and what methodological changes might improve the evaluations" (from New Directions for Institutional Research)
The author highlights a U.S. News and World Report Rankings flaw where institutions ranked as "top tier" close shortly after the rankings are published.
Many undergraduates take standardized tests like the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) to advance to the next stage of their educational careers. Martens argues that scores from such tests provide a direct, empirical measure of undergraduate learning, and should therefore be accounted for in college rankings. However, due to what Martens calls a "culture of secrecy," undergraduate institutions have historically been very resistant to releasing student test data. Martens argues that colleges are avoiding accountability and urges "full disclosure" of student test performance data so that colleges can be evaluated more accurately.
"This paper is a study of who uses the contentious and seemingly influential newsmagazine rankings of U.S. colleges and universities, and an analysis of what types of freshmen find these rankings useful in making their choice of college." (from Research in Higher Education)
"Validity criteria can and should be applied to reputational study models, and research that tests their validity and reliability should be conducted. Such concerns, while weighing heavily on the minds of institutional researchers and others on campus, have typically not been raised by consumers and publishers. Two studies of U.S. News and World Report's "America's Best Colleges" suggest that this guide's validity may be suspect, and that systematic research and development are long overdue." (from New Directions for Institutional Research)
This article presents a guidance counselor's insights into "what parents and students really think about rankings." McNeal points out that rankings, while imperfect, do help parents and students narrow down the overwhelming choices they face in selecting a college or university. Although some inflate the importance of rankings and let them dominate the decision-making process, she observes that "the majority of parents I've met and counseled is too savvy to let rankings lists rule the college application process." The key piece of advice she offers parents is to scrutinize aspects of student and academic life that rankings cannot adequately capture to gain a more accurate picture of schools under consideration.
"This study evaluates the data sources and research methods used in earlier studies to rank the research productivity of Library and Information Science (LIS) faculty and schools" (taken from article).
Examines the impact of the U.S. News rankings on a variety of variables. "The results show that many schools' admission outcomes are responsive to movements in the rankings; however changes in rank are more significant at certain locations in the rankings and affect public and private schools differently. The results also show that the socioeconomic and racial demographics of highly ranked universities may also be affected by changes in rank" (from article abstract).
The above link will take you to an abstract of the paper and will allow you to view an Adobe PDF version of the work.
"Although the yearly rankings are greeted with disdain on many campuses, they have a measurable impact on admissions outcomes and pricing policies at highly ranked national universities and liberal arts colleges."
This is a blog maintained by Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report where he develops the methodologies and surveys for the America's Best Colleges and America's Best Graduate Schools annual rankings. This blog discusses U.S. News & World Report as well as other rankings' methodologies.
"College rankings prepared by popular magazines have generated considerable controversy in the higher education community. Robert J. Morse of, U.S. News and World Report, and Jersey Gilbert, formerly with Money Magazine, respond to the critics." (from New Directions for Institutional Research)
(Also available as an ERIC Document, E D432176).
This paper provides an overview and analysis of five major university league tables including U.S. News and World Report, the Times Higher Education Supplement, Asiaweek, the Australian Good University Guide, and Maclean's. Focusing on the methodology of the different rankings, the study spans the globe in its coverage. It also discusses the usefulness, criticisms, and statistical validity of rankings and their impact on students' choices. (Paper can be requested electronically from the British Library Document Supply Centre.)
Qiu, Junping (2006). An evaluation report of postgraduates’ education in China. Beijing: Ke xue chu ban she.
In response to the growing influence college rankings have on university and public policies, this report from the European University Association analyzes new developments in global university rankings and methodologies that have taken place since the first report was published in 2011.
This article discusses a new mathematical analysis asserting that the News & World Report rankings of colleges and universities are largely arbitrary. The ariticle argues that the magazine should release several different rankings, based on choices of a few representative sets of priorities.
Abstract (from ERIC): Ten higher education professionals and one college senior comment on the U.S. News and World Report rankings of doctoral programs in six liberal arts disciplines. The authors' response to one set of comments and the comments of an executive editor from the magazine are also included. (MSE)
Samarasekera discusses the reasons 25 Canadian universities refused to take part in the Maclean's (the Canadian equivalent to U.S. News & World Report) college rankings in 2006. This article hopes to support American universities that wish to boycott U.S. News & World Report rankings.
Samuelson argues that college rankings have contributed to the creation of more "elite" schools than there used to be. This is partially due to supply and demand: there are more qualified students who want to attend top-ranked schools than there are available slots, which creates pressure for "second-tier" schools to improve their academic standards (and their position in the rankings).
Using a case study of law schools, this article seeks to explain how rankings "change how internal and external constituencies think about the field of legal education".
This article examines some of the most popular business school ranking services and describes many of their problems and pitfalls. The author concludes with the following statement: " Most likely, no single MBA program is best for everyone, and almost every program is best for someone. The match has to be individualized."
This article examines the positive impacts that U.S. News and World Report receives due to its college rankings.
Staroba, K. "The Rankings Ruckus: PR Pros Talk about How -- and How Not -- to Publicize
Currents. v23 n6 (1997): p.30.
"This chapter discusses the history of and issues surrounding efforts to rate and rank colleges and universities." (from New Directions for Institutional Research)
This article explores the methodology used in rankings. Focusing on several ranking organizations, including U.S News and World Report and the Princeton Review, it examines the assorted factors and approaches and how universities, students, and parents react to the outcomes.
The author considers the use of league tables (comparative data and ranking tables) in summarizing the relative performance of universities and compares the use of league tables used in British higher education with those used in British soccer organizations.
Specifically focused on business school programs, this article examines the difference between rankings using research performance criteria and the popular ranking services criteria. In addition to pointing to the significant differences between the results, the author also notes factors that contribute to and improve the outcome for each.
An entire issue of this periodical devoted to guidebook and ranking issues.
Abstract (from ERIC): Although college rankings published in the mass media may not be the best way of comparing colleges, they provide more useful information than accrediting agencies, college catalogs, and most college guides. Administrators, not magazines, are to blame for their misuse. Rankings can help motivate programs, departments, and institutions to improve themselves. (MSE)
This article attempts to identify standard ranking criteria and wants to "largely bypass opinion by having multiple, well-conceived indicators about which experts in the assorted fields have been consulted."
This article offers a summary and critique on popular world rankings such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the Times Higher University World Rankings, and Webometrics rankings.