Columbia University announced on Tuesday that its undergraduate schools would no longer participate in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. The Ivy League university will stop supplying information to the influential undergraduate guide for students and parents.
Although Columbia has said it had become concerned about the “outsized influence” the rankings played in the undergraduate admissions process and that “much is lost in this approach,” there is speculation that the real reason is related to its catastrophic drop in the rankings released in September; it fell to No. 18 from No. 2.
On Tuesday, U.S. News defended its ranking system as an important guide for students.
“Our critics tend to attribute every issue faced by academia — including the impending Supreme Court case mentioned in Columbia’s announcement — to our rankings,” Eric Gertler, the chief executive, said in a statement. “We have consistently stated that our rankings should be one factor in that decision-making process.”
U.S. News said it has listened to the critics. It announced in May that new methodology for undergraduate programs would give increased weight to a school’s success in graduating students from different backgrounds.
And trying to forestall a larger exodus, U.S. News said that it would no longer rely on data that only colleges could provide. It also recently urged Miguel A. Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, to demand that schools provide open access to their undergraduate and graduate school data.
Robert Kelchen, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said that while U.S. News had not fully described its new model, it could be an improvement, with better data.
“I think there are also questions about the accuracy of the data that colleges provide,” said Dr. Kelchen, who advises the Washington Monthly magazine on its rankings.
It was a math professor at Columbia, Michael Thaddeus, who set off at least some of the backlash against the U.S. News rankings in early 2022 when he posted a 21-page analysis of the rankings, accusing his own school of submitting statistics that were “inaccurate, dubious or highly misleading.”
Dr. Thaddeus said he had found discrepancies in the data that Columbia supplied to U.S. News, involving class size and percentage of faculty with terminal degrees — two of the metrics that U.S. News announced it was eliminating from its calculations.
The fallout from his accusations led Columbia to acknowledge that it had provided misleading data, and the school did not submit new data last year. Tuesday’s announcement makes that decision permanent.
Other institutions that withdrew from the rankings this year, are Colorado College, Bard College, Rhode Island School of Design and Stillman College, a historically Black school in Alabama.
After Yale dropped out of the law school rankings last year, dozens of other elite law and medical schools quickly followed — among them Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford — but most schools stayed in.
This time, with enrollment down, and many undergraduate schools hunting for students, a mass defection seems unlikely.