As a senior at Beijing No. 4 High School, I’m starting my college application at the end of this year. Like many other seniors at international schools, I realize finding the right fit for myself is important and to that measure, I am currently researching college information and rankings. Recently, I had to chance to interview Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News and World Report, an American magazine known for its influential ranking and annual reports of colleges and graduate schools. Morse answers questions about college rankings, school data, and more. See part one of the interview here.
In the past schools have been known to provide inaccurate statistics. How does U.S. News and World Report secure the authenticity of its data?
General speaking, the data we’re collecting, has also been reported to the US federal government. The fact that particular schools misreport to the US government as well as U.S. News and World Report causes a negative reputation for the schools once they are exposed to the public. The public shaming has made schools more careful about submitting genuine data. Broadly speaking, the data accuracy that has been reported has improved, but it is still possible for schools to falsify their data in the future. U.S. News and World Report doesn’t have the power to enforce policy to prevent this from happening; the federal government can do way more in terms of data accuracy since they can use various kinds of aid programs to sanction schools that are misreporting the data. But they haven’t done that yet.
Many international schools in China don’t have college guidance counselors. Commonly, students and families turn to agencies to measure the success of the students’ application merely by the ranking and the US News ranking. What are your thoughts on this practice?
We are aware of the fact that the ranking can be more powerful in China than it has already been in the United States. But we do try to counsel people that the ranking shouldn’t be the sole reason to choose a school over another. One needs to take other factors into account. The study abroad agencies are using the school’s ranking as proof for the students’ parents to pay them money. If students enter a top ranking school like an Ivy League school, it might not mark as the ultimate success. It is a distortion of reality to solely rely on the number of the ranking because there is much more other information that is worthy to look into.
It is a prevailing phenomenon that students are now looking for what the projected payback is after they graduate and get a job. If it is the trend, why doesn’t U.S. News and World Report take the potential payback into account for overall ranking?
We definitely have people taking this measurement into account. We also look into the data, but people should be skeptical towards it because they are self-reported by graduate students so there is no absolute accuracy in it. In addition, it’s not using a scientific sample to form the result. It’s complicated to get an exact result since the bigger the school, the more different types of degrees it offers.
There are other publications that offer college rankings, such as Princeton Review and Times Higher Education, which rank schools differently. How should students and parents know when looking at these rankings?
There is no overlap of data between U.S. News and World Report and Times High Education. If you are looking into colleges specifically in the United States, U.S. News and World Report might be a good idea, but if you are comparing schools globally, Times Higher Education is the one doing. Keep in mind Times Higher Education is fairly remote from student experience, but is something that can be use for global comparison. Different rankings have different kinds of measurements and people should take advantages of them.
Harry Liu, (Liu Yinhao), is a senior at the international campus affiliated with Beijing No.4 High School, a public high school in Beijing. He is the community outreach officer for the student’s council, the president of the photography club, the deputy president of the science and philosophy club, and the editor and photographer for his school newspaper. Through his blog posts, he hopes to share unique and exciting experiences at Beijing No.4 High School International Campus.
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Photo: Static (Flickr)