Dickinson continues to show leadership in the national debate about college rankings.
What do you think? Join our discussion in Weigh In on the Issues.
Annapolis Group Suggests Alternatives to Commercial Rankings
Members of the Annapolis Group, an organization of the nation's leading liberal arts colleges, came together at their annual meeting on to discuss an alternative to the commercial college rankings. Dickinson College President William G. Durden and Provost Neil Weissman, along with 80 other college and university presidents and 71 academic deans, firmly believe that liberal arts colleges have an affirmative obligation to provide data that students and parents can use in making admissions decisions.
However, Annapolis Group members, unlike some commercially based rankings, believe the data needs to comply with best professional norms and include a focus on learning outcomes. In addition, the majority of Annapolis Group presidents agreed to cease participating in the annual rankings and refrain from marketing such rankings as a measurement of quality.
Last year, prior to the release of the 2007 U.S.News college rankings, Dickinson College stated that it would no longer participate in the academic reputation portion of the U.S.News & World Report survey, nor would it use U.S.News or other commercial rankings for promotional purposes.
Annapolis Group Statement on Rankings and Ratings
June 19, 2007 - Members of the Annapolis Group have agreed to participate in the development of an alternative common format that presents information about their colleges for students and their families to use in the college search process.
The Web-based initiative, to be developed in collaboration with other higher education organizations, will provide easily accessible, comprehensive and quantifiable data. The Annapolis Group members will work with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), among others to develop this common instrument.
In addition, the majority of the Annapolis Group presidents attending the annual meeting in Annapolis, Md., expressed their intent not to participate in the annual U.S.News and World Report ranking exercise. The Annapolis Group is not a legislative body and any decision about participating from the U.S.News rankings rests with the individual institutions.
The members of the Annapolis Group share mutual interests and information to strengthen their respective educational programs. The group works cooperatively and collectively to promote greater public understanding and recognition of the value of a liberal arts education.
Dickinson College Position on College Rankings (May, 2007)
In May 2007,Dickinson College President Bill Durden signed a letter along with eleven of his colleagues urging other college and university presidents to de-emphasize the importance of the U.S.News rankings by refusing to promote or advertise their placement on “the list.” In addition, the 12 presidents also suggested that their 100+ colleagues, to whom this letter was sent, stop completing the academic reputation portion of the survey. This subjective segment, which is the single biggest factor in a school's final ranking, calls upon higher education leaders to rate the quality of other institution's academic programs—about which they know very little. The letter falls short, however, of asking these institutions to refuse to complete the data survey.
For years, Dickinson College has had concerns about the methodology used in the U.S.News rankings. As far back as 2002, I wrote an opinion piece about the flaws in the peer assessment survey, and from 2000-05, our comments about Dickinson 's place in the rankings consistently reflected our issues about this portion as well as other methodological short comings. In April 2006, Dickinson ended its institutional practice of commenting on the rankings, concurrent with our refusal to complete the peer assessment survey.
We still complete the data survey because we know that the rankings are here to stay, but the college will not promote them nor will we rate other schools. Institutionally, we still believe that U.S.News can get the majority of the objective data upon which to rank colleges from sources other than their own survey, and we will work over time with our collegial institutions to move away from the proprietary U.S.News survey and toward providing U.S.News , and other commercial entities, the data available to all through the Common Data Set.
In the meantime, while we will not comment further on the rankings going forward, there are a number of archived articles regarding our position. Excerpts are listed below for those interested in seeing our comments.
Robert J. Massa, Ed.D
Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations
Previous commentary on rankings
News release, Aug. 22, 2003
"We continue to have significant concerns about the validity of the weight assigned to various components used in the rankings," Massa says. "'Reputation' in the rankings is determined by votes from college presidents, provosts and chief enrollment officers and is highly questionable as the only subjective rating in the ranking formula. I will also call on U.S.News to take steps to assure that all colleges are using the same definitions when reporting data."
News release, Aug. 20, 2004
Still college officials do not believe that these rankings tell the totality of the Dickinson story and have gone on record stating that the magazine's method for creating the ranking is flawed. Dr. Robert Massa, vice president of enrollment at the college, explains that while the magazine's tabulations appear to be scientific, 25 percent of the score used to create the rankings is based on the subjective "reputation" category. "Every year U.S. News spends significant resources to analyze its ranking data, generating a perception that the process is valid and scientific. But how can the rankings be accurate or scientific when 25 percent of the total score is based on a subjective survey of administrators?" asks Dr. Massa. "In addition, 10 percent of the score is based purely on financial resources. No effort is made to determine how resources are spent - only that an institution has them."
Message from President Durden, Sept. 1, 2000
Like other top colleges, Dickinson believes that the ranking system is flawed and that annual fluctuations are due more to the statistical weighting of factors than to any substantive change in actual quality. The public, however, pays attention to the rankings, and we cannot ignore this fact.
Message from Vice President Massa, Aug. 22, 2003
In spite of this, we continue to have significant concerns about the validity of the weight assigned to various components used in the rankings. We also believe that the final "matrixed score" to determine rank is a simplistic arithmetic manipulation of input data and is not indicative of academic accomplishment (although the subcategories used are important indices of institutional health).