Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

New ACE Analysis Scrutinizes Impacts of College Ranking Systems

March 19, 2014

Rankings Issue Brief cover

 

​A new ACE issue brief finds that college rankings often have detrimental effects on institutions and that students—particularly low-income students—do not use them when choosing among their higher education options.

The ACE Center for Policy, Research & Strategy’s Rankings, Institutional Behavior, and College and University Choice is intended to add research-based context to the Obama administration’s plan to rate colleges on value and affordability. It explores research on college rankings based on widespread concern in the higher education community that the administration’s proposed system will become another de facto ranking and be treated as such by students, their families and institutions.

“ACE is among the organizations contributing to the ongoing dialogue on the Obama administration’s plan,” said Lorelle Espinosa, ACE assistant vice president for policy research and strategy and the report’s lead author. “The purpose of this paper is to show, through data and years of research, how this plan could impact institutional behavior while at the same time doing little to inform students and families about their college options. We believe the unintentional consequences of such a system could outweigh the potential gains, especially for low-income students.”

The brief analyzes data released last month by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) and other research, finding:

  • Fewer than a quarter of all students said rankings were “very important” in their college decisions, with a nine percentage point gap between low (15 percent) and high-income students (24 percent) and a 14 percentage point gap between students attending low (10 percent) and highly (24 percent) selective institutions.
  • For low-income students, location was a bigger factor—25 percent of these students said staying close to home was very important. Similarly, 27 percent of first-generation students also said selecting an institution near home was very important, as opposed to 18 percent of non-first-generation students.
  • How students use measures of institutional quality (e.g., SAT scores, student-faculty ratio, degree completion rates, etc.) is up for debate. While some research suggests students tend to factor in graduates’ labor market outcomes, other analysis suggests that they rarely consider graduation rates and average student debt in their decisions.

In terms of institutional behavior, popular rankings tend to place more value on the talents of incoming classes than on student outcomes, and can have unintended influence on admissions. For instance, if selectivity is valued by a ranking system, institutions tend to become more selective—which can disadvantage low-income students.

“Higher education institutions remain committed to making college more accessible and affordable to low-income students,” concluded Espinosa. “The research indicates that rankings don’t necessarily help in those efforts.”

The brief, along with the higher education community’s comments on the administration’s plan, are both available on ACE’s website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ginnie Titterton ▪ 202-939-9367 ▪ ​ gtitterton@acenet.edu

Other ACE News

  • May 22, 2015

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    In today’s headlines, The Wall Street Journal looks at what presidential hopefuls are proposing be done to curb college costs and reduce student debt. And while the Regents of the University of California are embracing Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget...

  • Innovative Practices

    May 22, 2015

    alternative credit project

    Calling All Proposals for ACE Alternative Credit Consortium

    Institutions demonstrating a strong commitment to access and attainment, particularly those serving nontraditional students, are invited to submit proposals to join the second wave of ACE’s alternative credit consortium.

  • Law and the Courts

    May 22, 2015

    Library with Colorful Books

    Access and Diversity Collaborative Issues Syllabus

    Over the last decade, the College Board’s Access & Diversity Collaborative—working in partnership with ACE, EducationCounsel and a numerous higher education institutions and organizations—has developed a significant body of work designed to assist...

  • Institutional Capacity

    May 20, 2015

    Register Now for ACE's Advancing to the Presidency

    Advancing to the Presidency, a two-day workshop scheduled for Oct.19-20 in Alexandria, VA, helps senior admnistrators prepare for the transition to the next level.

  • Institutional Capacity

    May 20, 2015

    It’s Not Too Early to Think About Applying for the Next Class of ACE Fellows

    As the ACE Fellows Program concludes its landmark 50th anniversary this academic year, it’s not too early to start thinking about applying to be a member of the 2016-17 class of the ACE Fellows Program.

 

 Related Content