Can a college education really be reduced to numbers?
Stanford challenges the newsweekly for hitting a little below the belt

By Elaine Ray


rom Stanford’s palm-studded campus to the cherry-blossomed thoroughfares of Washington, D.C., a clash of values is testing the wills of scholars and publishers. On one side is President Gerhard Casper and a national corps of student activists. On the other is the editorial staff of U.S. News and World Report, which publishes its “America’s Best Colleges” issue from the capital every fall.

U.S. News editors insist that their college guide provides a service to parents and prospective students who want to invest their higher education dollars wisely. The fact that the guide is the weekly newsmagazine’s hottest-selling issue demonstrates readers’ confidence in their product, editors assert. But critics argue that U.S. News’ college rankings should be taken about as seriously as a beauty contest or Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. They say U.S. News does consumers a disservice by assigning numerical value to things that cannot be quantified.

“It’s a fundamentally ridiculous concept to say that you can take a series of numbers, run them through an algorithm and that algorithm will tell you what makes the best college and what makes the second-best college. That’s an absurd notion,” says Nick Thompson, vice president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and the national coordinator of Forget U.S. News Coalition (FUNC) ­ a national alliance of students. The ASSU was one of several student government organizations across the country that passed resolutions condemning U.S. News’ formulas and asking their college administrations to withhold data requested by the magazine. FUNC members met with U.S. News editors in December.

U.S. News Rankings (Plain text)
U.S. News Rankings (Adobe Acrobat format - 221k)

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