Admissions experts convened at Yale on Tuesday, taking a first step towards devising better alternatives to the annual U.S. News and World Report “Best Colleges” rankings.
Approximately 100 college presidents, admissions deans, researchers, professors, high school counselors, parents and students participated in the “Beyond the Rankings” conference, which was sponsored by the Education Conservancy. The president of the conservancy, Lloyd Thacker, has led efforts to protest the stranglehold the U.S. News rankings have on the college admissions research process. While the schools did not discuss withholding information from the magazine, organizers said they were pleased that the diverse group agreed on the importance of matching colleges to students’ individual needs.
The conference, which was held at St. Thomas More, hosted administrators from a variety of schools — public and private, large and small — along with others interested in admissions and education. Participants included Director of Admissions at Harvard Marlyn McGrath-Lewis, Stanford University Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw, and James Montoya, vice president of higher education at the standardized testing company College Board.
The magazine’s perennially-criticized rankings have come under intensified fire since March, when a group of 12 small liberal arts colleges joined in protest against the list, which includes separate rankings of universities and small liberal arts colleges. As of today, 65 leaders of private and public universities — but not including Yale or any of the other Ivies — have given their support to the protest.
This past year, Yale came in third in the university rankings for the fifth year in a row, with Princeton and Harvard universities taking first and second, respectively. The magazine’s criteria for scores include acceptance rate, student-to-faculty ratio and graduation and retention rates.
Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said it was encouraging to witness the collaboration among the diverse participants, especially among the college representatives. Yale hosted the conference in part because its widely-recognized name would attract an array of participants, he said.
“We all have institutional self-interest, and we all recognize that we compete strongly for students,” he said. “But what I was encouraged by, in the broad range of institutions that attended today, is that Lloyd has helped call us to our common ground as educators, and most of us would not be in these jobs if we didn’t care about students as much as or more than our particular institutions.”
Brenzel said the conference participants agreed that it would be helpful to develop a self-assessment tool for applicants, which would help them compare their individual needs to school characteristics.
The next step will be to assemble a report on the conference’s conclusions and circulate it among the participants, Thacker said. After the Education Conservancy has received feedback and suggestions from the participants, he said, leaders of the ranking alternatives movement would be in a better position to consider what the alternatives are.
Kenyon College President Georgia Nugent said the admissions process currently instills an anxiety in students that discourages them from exploring intellectual opportunities outside their comfort zones.
“Our young people are so focused on achieving a certain perfection that we fear we’re beginning to see that, by the time they come into college and university situations, they’re more risk averse than we would like to see and they aren’t willing to take the kinds of intellectual risks [that they should],” she said.
Conference attendees said they did not discuss the possibility of withholding information from the magazine as a form of active opposition to the rankings.
Douglas Bennett, president of Earlham College in Indiana, said attendees agreed that the rankings obscure the advantages and disadvantages of different schools.
“A very strong premise you could feel in the room as we gathered today is that there isn’t a single right college for anybody,” Bennett said. “There are good colleges out there, and yet they’re different.”
The U.S. News rankings have been published every August since 1983.