"Inside Rankings: Limitations and Possibilities"
NERCHE Working Paper: "Inside Rankings: Limitations and Possibilities”
KerryAnn O'Meara (Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Maryland, College Park)
Matthew Meekins (Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions, School of International Service, American University)
“Inside Rankings: Limitations and Possibilities” considers the growing influence of dominant higher-education ranking systems—such as the U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) “Best Colleges” lists—and presents a critique of their main weaknesses and benefits. Drawing on an extensive literature review as well as insights from a graduate course on ranking systems in higher education (developed by Dr. O’Meara), the working paper explores the relationships and disconnections between research- and reputation-based ranking systems and the purposes and goals of higher education. The authors also identify alternative ranking systems that more accurately reflect the innovative and change-oriented goals of colleges and universities that are both vital to the well-being of the communities in which they reside and that educate the vast majority of an increasingly diverse student population.
From the authors: “Dominant research- and reputation-based ranking systems for undergraduate programs gained prominence in the 1980s and have been a major topic of study and debate ever since. Whether we like them or not, they are constantly influencing institutional identity, aspirations, and cultures. By and large, as we have argued, the assumptions and expectations informing dominant ranking systems are flawed by methodologies that mistake inputs for outcomes, a reliance on traditional forms of research and teaching that have limited utility in complex, dynamic, regional, national and global contexts, and a tendency to give short shrift to the rich diversity of institutional types, missions, and goals that characterize the landscape of higher education.”