Stanford News

4/18/97

CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (415) 723-2558


A Statement by Gerhard Casper
on the U.S. News & World Report College Survey

Stanford University has taken the first step toward an alternative to U.S. News & World Report rankings by establishing a site on the World Wide Web that offers data directly to students and families, President Gerhard Casper said.

For this year, Stanford will continue to submit objective data ­ though not subjective reputational votes ­ to U.S. News.

Prospective college students, and their families, face a complex and stressful question: What is the best college for me ­ for my needs, my interests, my objectives? Many college guides help by providing valuable information which allows students to compare for themselves the programs and qualities of colleges and universities. One college guide, published by U.S. News & World Report, attempts to rank colleges and universities by a single yardstick. In doing so, U.S. News does a substantial disservice to prospective students and fails to meet basic standards of good social science and journalism.

Many colleges and universities, including Stanford, have begun to consider withdrawing from the annual U.S. News survey on the grounds that its methods of ranking institutions are misleading and inaccurate. At the same time, Stanford and other institutions wish to make useful information widely available and welcome objective reports about our programs. Because there is not yet a sufficient consensus on an alternative method of delivering information, Stanford will, this year, continue to submit objective data ­ though not subjective reputational votes ­ to U.S. News.

We also have taken the first step toward an alternative by establishing a new World Wide Web site ­ www.stanford.edu/home/statistics/ ­ on which we offer data that may be helpful to prospective students. These data, many of them identical to those requested by U.S. News, are available immediately and free of charge, without students' having to wait to buy a copy of U.S. News.

We invite interested colleges and universities to join us in further refining definitions and categories, and in posting standardized web pages that clearly display facts and statistics on programs, students, student-faculty ratios, faculty quality, financial resources and other pertinent indicators. The managers of Yahoo! have expressed willingness to provide a central link to such pages through their Web search programs. With such information, students and their families would be able to review and compare schools' programs and resources directly, without the distortion of information that occurs in U.S. News' ranking system.

I also urge U.S. News to reform its annual college survey practices. Several changes are needed.

c U.S. News should eliminate its attempt to rank colleges and universities like automobiles or toasters. The fact that the rankings of many institutions change dramatically from year to year says more about inconsistent scoring methods than actual changes in quality. Such movement is entirely misleading.

c U.S. News should stop drawing inappropriate conclusions from the data. For example, last year the magazine introduced a "value-added" score based on "predicted" vs. actual graduation rates. As a result, some of the most rigorous programs in the country were penalized precisely because they do not make college so easy that everyone graduates.

c U.S. News should stop making "statistical estimates" to substitute for data not provided by a college or university or otherwise available in exactly the defined form. It is surely a violation of the standards of journalism to invent "facts."

The strength of the American system of higher education lies in the diversity of institutions available to students, from small colleges to large research universities, publics to privates, liberal arts colleges to church-affiliated schools. Each has something to offer, and no standardized lists of "best colleges" can begin to do justice to what is best for a given student. With full, accurate and complete information, students and families can make the choice of the institutions best for them. Stanford will continue to provide such information on its own and in cooperation with independent college guides. We urge U.S. News to attempt to become a more reliable and credible participant in this effort.

In a Sept. 23, 1996 letter to James Fallows, editor of U.S. News and World Report, Gerhard Casper outlined his objections to the U.S. News ratings. For the text of the letter, see
http://www-portfolio.stanford.edu:80/103960 on the World Wide Web.