In search of rankings alternatives

Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel wants to find a new way of ranking Yale against its peers — whether or not the College is number one.

Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons may have stolen the show at last week’s annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Seattle with his presentation of now-famous findings criticizing the SAT, but Brenzel’s pet project could prove just as newsworthy.

In a presentation with the anti-rankings organization, the Education Conservancy, the dean delivered a critique of the U.S. News & World Report rankings and called for a more educational alternative.

The characterization of his presentation as a “lengthy attack on U.S. News” by news organization Inside Higher Ed, though, was not accurate, Brenzel said.

“I see no point in attacking the U.S. News rankings or other commercially driven attempts to put a consumer spin on the college search process,” Brenzel said in an e-mail. “Rankings aren’t going to go away because educators or counselors see them as misleading and harmful. The only question is whether educators can collaborate to produce a better alternative.”

At the event, Education Conservancy founder Lloyd Thacker presented the prototype for this alternative — a Web site called “College Speaks.” Though still under development, the site would feature questions to help students determine what types of colleges they are interested in and which specific colleges are appropriate for them. It would also contain information about colleges beyond the basic data typically availably in databases and an “ask the experts” interactive section.

Thacker is currently soliciting funds from colleges, foundations and other partners to build the site. Yale has already donated $30,000 to the project, which went toward sponsoring a “Beyond the Rankings” conference on campus last fall to foster discussion on the project.

“This will be a big task and require many actors, but education deserves a college selection process that is educationally appropriate,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But Andrew McNeill, director of college counseling at the Taft School in Connecticut, said he is unsure the project is viable.

“I love the idea of getting past the numbers in evaluating candidates,” said McNeill, who attended the NACAC conference but was not at the Education Conservancy session. “But it’s not going to happen. There’s too much market pressure now to do admissions by the numbers.”

The conclusions of the Fitzsimmons commission — which recommended that colleges examine their use of the SAT and ACT and consider whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages — were mostly received with praise at the panel Saturday, according to news outlets.

Brenzel called the report “an excellent piece of work,” saying he agrees with its principal conclusions and that Yale will continue to review its own use of standardized tests.

Tom Walsh, director of college guidance at the Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts, commended the commission for validating the decisions of those colleges that have already decided to become test-optional.

But McNeill said he didn’t think the report’s conclusions were “earth-shattering.”

“They are not going to change the admissions landscape,” he said.

Other features of the NACAC conference included discussions on trends in early decision programs and a counselors’ college fair.

Comments

  • Alum

    As long as Benzel is in a reformist, damn-the-rankings mood, is there any chance that Yale will dump its yield-boosting early admissions program, as Harvard and Princeton have done?