U.S. News Is Not the Best of Anything

Recently I heard the director of admissions at one of the nation’s premiere universities lament how U.S. News & World Reports helped to create a distorted competitive process that now surrounds college admissions. He recounted the history of the magazine’s ranking process and how it has transformed the way in which universities accept students — tuned to metrics measured in the rankings — and, in turn, the way in which high school counselors direct students, the schools students choose and, most dramatically, the paranoia and excessive anxiety of certain parents.

Much has been written on this topic so I won’t retrace the absurdity of the rankings.

However, when I heard the admissions director blame U.S. News on the state of the admissions process, as a magazine person, all I could think is this: If there was a ranking of magazines — even a ranking of newsweekly magazines — there is no way U.S. News would rank high. It’s certainly not in the Ivy League. It’s not even one of those top-tier non-Ivies. It’s, well, a small for-profit jr. college that accepts anyone with a pulse. So how crazy is that?

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that U.S. News will no longer be ranked at the bottom of the Best News Weeklies in America. It’s no longer going to pretend it’s a newsweekly — rather it’s going to be a “Best of” magazine.

In my opinion, U.S. News ranks #1 on the list magazines that should just go away completely.

Update: From a comment below, I think my post may not be clear to some. Let me try to clarify myself: I think U.S. News has long lost any standing as a magazine of importance. It has survived because it latched onto a gimmick. Unfortunately, that gimmick had seriously negative consequences and is, overall, a disservice to those it claims to serve. I think college rankings are a cancer that U.S. News spread. They place too much emphasis on metrics that have little to do with success in life. Rather than waste money and time on studying such rankings, I think students and their parents should look at resources like Colleges that Change Lives that recognize students and universities are made up of human beings, not collections of statistics and marketing-prowess.

  • I enjoy a good snark as well as anyone, but you seem to have missed the point.

    If you publish biweekly, you aren’t a newsweekly.

    If the newspaper review for a restaurant says a third of their customers get food poisoning, according to the restaurant’s own numbers, would you blame the newspaper for the restaurant closing?

    If the restaurant review said they checked out the parking lot, and found that 50% of the cars were gas-guzzlers, would consumers decide not to go to the restaurant because they didn’t want to have their milage deteriorate? Of course not. Readers aren’t dumb.

    Wayne State University was clobbered in the May 12 issue. It turns out that only 10% of their black students graduate within six years, versus 45% of their white students. The average rate for all universities is 57%. Catholic University of America has a 25% graduation rate for blacks, 72% for whites.

    Ah, you might think, blacks simply don’t do well in college. But then you see that the graduation rate at Yale is 96% for black students, 97% for white students, and at Florida State University, it’s 72% for blacks, 69% for whites.

    No matter what their race, I would advise students to avoid Wayne State, and head for Florida State instead.

    It’s natural that someone who isn’t very good at his job blames someone else for his failures. That director of admissions – which you declined to identify – needs to find a different job.

  • Dear Harl,

    I guess you didn’t get my point. Let me make it clearer:

    I think U.S. News has long lost any standing as a magazine of importance. It has survived because it latched onto a gimmick. Unfortunately, that gimmick had seriously negative consequences and is, overall, a disservice to those it claims to serve.

    I think college rankings are a cancer that U.S. News spread. They place too much emphasis on metrics that have little to do with success in life.

    Rather than waste money and time on studying such rankings, I think students and their parents should look at resources like Colleges that Change Lives.

  • Did you get MY point? A magazine that publishes 36 times a year won’t be ranked ANYWHERE on a list of the best newsweeklies. Neither will the Encyclopedia Brittanica be on that list because it isn’t a weekly, either.

    Furthermore, you assert Therefore, it comes as no surprise that U.S. News will no longer be ranked at the bottom of the Best News Weeklies in America. It wasn’t there in the first place. It was third in a field of five, according to both ABC and PIB.

    The “Colleges That Change Lives” site you recommend doesn’t seem very useful to me. Let’s say you are looking for a college in the great lakes states where you can become an engineer.

    It doesn’t appear that ANY of the CTCL colleges offers an engineering program at all, anywhere in the country – and students in most states won’t find ANY college at all in their home state.

    For a liberal-arts education at an expensive, small, private campus far from home, it might be just what the doctor ordered, but that’s not the kind of school most students want, and not the kind of school most students can afford.

    Would you damn Sports Illustrated as frivolous, based on their swimsuit issue each winter? USN&WR report only publishes that “Best Colleges” issue once a year. If they were surviving only on that one issue, they wouldn’t be scaling back from weekly to biweekly, they’d become an annual.

    Like I said, Rex, I enjoy a good snark, but this one ain’t good. It makes you look silly, not them.