Figuring out the best college to attend can be a difficult task for a student. Until recently, one of the tools they might have used to decide which institutions were the most prestigious was the annual rankings by the magazine “U.S. News & World Reports.” However, colleges increasingly unhappy about the list have begun pulling out, refusing to provide the magazine with the information it needs to include them.

There are several reasons that the magazines four-decade reign appears to be crumbling. These range from one professor’s observation that inaccurate information submitted by his university, Columbia, caused it to drop to arguments that the criteria are too subjective to charges that the magazine had gained too much power.

While some critics say that the list has been irrelevant for years, not everyone agrees. A former dean at Temple University was sent to prison for trying to drive the college’s ranking higher with inaccurate information. Despite what critics of the “U.S. News & World Reports” rankings say, the volume of schools pulling out of the list means that it can be hard for students to find good information about the relative value of a school.

They may need to turn to alternative sources or do more research on their own to make sure they find a school that will suit their needs. The shift comes amid growing discomfort about the cost of college educations versus the financial rewards later in life. While a bachelor’s degree does increase the likelihood of a higher income, this is not always the case, and trades and other careers that do not require a degree may pay more than many college graduates make.

Costs mean that students often must turn to private loans to help shore up the gap between the financial aid they’re able to get and expenses, but private loans usually require cosigners. Adults asked to cosign these loans may want to review a guide on private student loan cosigner rights and other information about taking on this responsibility. The controversy raises questions about whether the purpose of seeking a bachelor’s degree is simply about having the most prestigious name possible on the diploma or if there is inherent value in the pursuit of knowledge itself.

Credit: MD Duran

Some schools say that the existence of the rankings can cause them to turn away promising but less accomplished students on the grounds that their performance or education-related statistics could affect the school’s data. Schools also suffered in the list if their graduates tended to choose lower paying jobs, many of which might be helping careers in the public sector.

Relatedly, some high school counselors argue that they have been de-emphasizing the list for years on the grounds that too many of its criteria are not relevant to students seeking a good education and a good launching pad for a successful career. One such criteria is endowment numbers, which doesn’t tell a potential student anything about the campus culture or whether they are likely to be looked on favorably by employers after they graduate.

The charge to leave the list was first led by law schools and then medical schools, but since then, a variety of different institutions have taken similar action, some encouraging others to do the same. Unfortunately for students, it is unclear whether the process of choosing a college will become any less murky without the list. It can be difficult for them to find accurate information from colleges and universities about placement rates for gradates, costs and more, and this makes finding schools and applying for admission much more difficult than it needs to be.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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