The Undying Art of Shameless Self-Promotion

It's around this time each year that U.S. News and World Report issues its annual college ratings. This is a bigger deal for colleges than for anyone, even the people who use them because it helps not only in recruiting students but in pushing for external funding.

What most people don't realize is just how tricky (read: near-crooked) the ratings are. For example, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that when two colleges corrected information on their alumni-donation rate, their ratings slid. [Edit: they've since corrected this - only one of the two schools' ratings slid].

But what isn't so widely reported is that part of the rankings are based on the perceived status of the college or university by other colleges and universities. In other words, what other schools report they think of your school can determine your school's ranking. If just parsing that sentence takes a moment, you can be sure there's more fun in the works. Clearly, that sort of system seems like it shouldn't be a problem, right? In a world where education becomes more business than anything every day, we can count on truth over the bottom line, right? I mean, if we asked Coke executives to tell us what they thought of Pepsi, of course they'd be honest with us. The method is more than a little suspect, and it has resulted in some schools boycotting certain parts of the system (often leading to falls in their own rankings) and to ask for more information about the methodology itself, even claiming the system favors private schools.

It's amazing how often these things occur, though. Recently the school I'm at sent out messages to employees about a regional survey seeking to find the best places to work. There's no self-promotion there, I'm sure. What's interesting is that I've never heard anyone report on the ten worst places to work in a region though it seems like knowing that could be just as important.


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