Everyone in higher education knows that the US News & World Report rankings are bogus. They are gamed and played, but since the general population considers them trustworthy, the colleges play the game.
Two Spokane colleges are in the top 15 western universities, according to the nation’s most prominent higher education rankings system.
U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 annual best colleges report, which was released Tuesday, ranked Gonzaga University fourth and Whitworth University 11th in the western U.S.
“We know that students and their families pay attention to rankings as one measure of a university’s suitablility for a higher education experience,” said Mary Joan Hahn, Gonzaga spokeswoman. “We also know there are many factors students take into account when selecting a university.”
The rankings also listed Washington State University in the bottom half of public institutions, prompting administrators at the Inland Northwest’s largest institution to claim the survey had limitations.
“We’re a land grant university and have a mission of access and affordability,” said Dan Bernardo, the provost and executive vice president. “Some of these criteria used in U.S. News & World Report really smack against access and affordability.”
WSU is ranked 143 out of 220 schools nationwide, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 annual best colleges reportreleased Tuesday.
The University of Washington is ranked 54th nationwide.
Rankings are useful at the beginning of a college search but rarely are the determining factor, said Greg Orwig, Whitworth’s vice president for admissions and financial aid.
“It’s not irrelevant, but it’s far from the most important thing we want people to know about Whitworth,” he said. “Rankings should inform that process but not drive it.”
Orwig said the school’s rank is included in recruitment literature but isn’t a major selling point.
“The sheer proliferation of rankings has, I believed, diluted the impact of rankings generally,” he said.
The annual survey ranks schools based on 15 academic indicators: graduation and retention rates, alumni giving and SAT and ACT test scores. The survey examined more than 18,000 colleges and universities and ranked 1,374. The west region covers 14 states, including California, Texas, Arizona and Hawaii.
The data can indicate the quality of the school but doesn’t take into account numerous, less tangible factors, Orwig said.
“None of those things can capture the ethos of the campus community,” he said.
Bernardo echoed Orwig and pointed to this year’s freshman class at WSU, 35 percent of whom are minorities and 45 percent first-generation college students. These student populations often face difficulties which students at more exclusive schools don’t.
“We are an institution that embraces inclusion and taking students with a great work ethic,” Bernardo said.
In 2013 then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized the survey, saying it creates “perverse incentives that actually increase costs for families.” That same year the Department of Education created its own college ranking system.