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U.S. News' ranking faces backlash as Harvard, Princeton top list

September 12, 2012|By Rene Lynch | This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
  • Unsurprisingly, Harvard and Princeton have topped a list of best colleges in the nation.
Unsurprisingly, Harvard and Princeton have topped a list of best colleges… (Elise Amendola and Mel Evans…)

Harvard and Princeton universities are the top colleges in the nation, according to a U.S. News and World report ranking that surprised absolutely no one.

The famed Ivy-league schools are tied for first place in the magazine's annual report on higher education, a report that seems to garner more groans and controversy with each passing year.

The study by the news magazine ostensibly aims to offer readers a helpful look at higher education, providing an at-a-glance guide to schools' undergraduate majors, master's and doctoral programs and their commitment to groundbreaking research.

All handy stuff, right? 

But increasingly the annual report is coming under fire for its methods. U.S. News and World Report's description of its own methodology says that "most of the data come from the colleges" themselves.

Some schools have boycotted the annual report, such as Reed College, a Portland, Ore., school considered one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. The school says on its website that it "has refused to participate in the U.S. News and World Report 'best colleges' rankings" and pointed to concern in some quarters about "institutions flagrantly manipulating data."

One of the first to blast this year's report was Lynn O'Shaughnessy, with a commentary titled "4 reasons to ignore U.S. News' college rankings." "It's the same ol' same ol' names," wrote the author and consultant for college-bound students and their parents.

Among her criticisms: The report doesn't drill down on academic quality, she says, and actually ends up contributing to higher college costs. 

The annual report is a cornerstone publication of U.S. News and World Report, which, like newspapers and other news magazines, has struggled for relevancy and readers in a digital world. The report also acts as a promotional platform for the publication's pay products -- such as its College Compass Combo that includes expanded campus profiles and a "My Fit" search program that ranks the best schools for you, all for $34.95.

Efforts to reach U.S. News for comment were not successful before this story was posted.

[Updated at 10:22 a.m., Sept. 12: An earlier version of this post said Harvard and Princeton universities ranked No. 1 and 2. In fact, they tied for first place.]

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