Colorado College will no longer provide data to U.S. News & World Report for its annual “best colleges” rankings, which school leadership said uses “flawed methodology” that prioritizes wealthy institutions.
The rankings conflict with its values by equating “academic quality with institutional wealth and privilege,” the school announced in a news release Monday. The college is listed as the nation’s 27th-best liberal arts college in the latest rankings.
With its decision, the school becomes the first college in the nation to withdraw from the undergraduate rankings since 1995, according to Colorado College President L. Song Richardson.
“The reason I joined Colorado College 19 months ago is because we’re always the first,” Richardson said. “Making courageous and bold actions, and being the first, and doing difficult things are part of our DNA, so it’s a very familiar place for Colorado College to be, and I very much hope other courageous schools will join us.”
The Gazette reached out to the Air Force Academy, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Denver for comment. The institutions did not respond in time for publication.
Unlike other rankings in higher education, which rely exclusively on publicly accessible data, U.S. News sends a separate questionnaire to collect information directly from schools. The questions can be “highly problematic,” Richardson said, including one section that asks schools to rank each other.
Of even greater concern on the equity front, however, is a set of two questions pertaining to student debt: What proportion of students take out loans, and what is the amount of loans they take out?
Schools with greater amounts of student debt are penalized in the rankings, incentivizing them to admit wealthier students who require less aid at the expense of students with greater financial need, according to Richardson.
“When most people think about the rankings, they think that this is some objective measure of the quality of the educational experience at schools,” Richardson said. “When you know more about how these rankings work, you realize that it’s not that at all.”
Metrics such as graduation and retention rates, diversity and post-graduate success will still be available via dashboards on Colorado College’s website.
U.S. News maintains its rankings are in prospective students’ best interests.
“We believe students deserve access to all the data and information necessary to make the right decision,” U.S. News & World Report Executive Chairman and CEO Eric Gertler said in a statement. “We know that comparing diverse academic institutions across a common data set is challenging, and that is why we have consistently stated that the rankings should be one component in a prospective student’s decision-making process.”
Colorado College is one of only 75 higher education institutions to meet the full demonstrated need of its students, according to the news release, and the only one in Colorado to do so. The school’s decision not to cooperate with U.S. News follows its recent effort to further expand access to lower-income, in-state students.
In 2019 the college launched an experimental scholarship program dubbed The Colorado Pledge. Under the program, newly admitted students from Colorado whose family income is less than $60,000 will not pay any money toward direct costs of tuition, fees, housing and meals. Colorado families with income between $60,000 and $125,000 must only pay room and board charges, and families with an income between $125,000 and $250,000 pay an amount equal to or less than the cost of attendance at the state flagship institution.
Richardson pointed to The Colorado Pledge and the university’s commitment to becoming a leader in social mobility, access and opportunity as the foundation of this decision.
“That is a commitment of the school and a commitment that I am making,” Richardson said. “We had to leave U.S. News & World Report because everything that U.S. News & World Report is about is antithetical to our values and our aspirational goals.”
Swaths of esteemed law and medical institutions have already announced their withdrawal from the rankings, according to a number of news outlets. Most recently, highly ranked medical schools at Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and more made headlines in January when they announced they would cease providing data to U.S. News, citing similar concerns to Colorado College.
But Richardson has long been a critic of the survey — even before arriving in Colorado, she said. She was pushing for schools to separate from U.S. News during her time as dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and she’s been raising the issue at Colorado College for some time.
“There was the start of this momentum with the law schools and then the medical schools,” Richardson said. “If we were ever going to pull out of U.S. News, this was the time to do it.”
In a survey distributed to students and their parents on Feb. 10 to gauge their support for a potential decision, more than half of 193 parent respondents said they would be proud or unconcerned if Colorado College declined to participate in the rankings. Only a fifth of respondents said they were concerned or would not support the decision, according to survey data.
Of 201 student respondents, about 60% said they would be proud or unconcerned by the move, and just over 10% said they would be concerned or unsupportive.
What’s more, about two-thirds of students said the rankings were not important in generating awareness about the college or in choosing to enroll. Parents were even less interested in what the ratings had to say, with more than three-fourths saying it was unimportant in generating awareness and two-thirds saying it was unimportant in choosing to enroll.
U.S. News will continue ranking schools, including Colorado College, regardless of whether they participate in its survey. Instead, it will rely on the same publicly accessible data used by other rankings.
The decision’s impact remains to be seen, but Richardson said she expects to see the school drop in the rankings. The college will study the impact of its withdrawal and make public its findings so schools that “aren’t in the same fortunate position” — that of a supportive community behind such a decision — can understand potential ramifications.