US News Changes College Ranking Criteria To Address Income Inequality

Neetu Chandak | Contributor

U.S. News and World Report changed the ranking system for its Best Colleges report by recognizing universities with higher enrollment and graduation rates of lower income students.

The changes were announced Monday, according to a U.S. News press release. The changes decreased the weight of SAT/ACT scores and expert opinions along with removing acceptance rate as a criteria in the rankings.

Another major change was adding “social mobility indicators,” which observed the graduation rates of students who benefitted from the Pell Grant program and the difference between graduation rates of Pell Grant and non-Pell Grant students. Recipients of the federal program come from households making $50,000 per year, though a majority of the grants go to students from incomes at or below $20,000 a year, U.S. News reported.

“For the first time, the federal government mandated that schools report the Pell and non-Pell graduation rate data, which allowed U.S. News to incorporate this into the Best Colleges methodology,” Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, said to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Princeton University maintained its number one ranking on the Best National Universities list for 2019.

University of California system schools, however, benefitted from the social mobility changes as five UC schools were ranked within the top 10 with UCLA taking the number one rank on the Top Public Schools among National Universities list. (RELATED: The Trump Administration Is Going After Harvard’s Affirmative Action Policies)

“The California university system improved in the rankings because of their performance graduating high proportions of low-income students – new this year in the Best Colleges methodology,” the press release said.

Politico released a review in 2017 that was critical of the U.S. News’ Best Colleges Rankings, saying criteria surrounding test scores and acceptance rates encouraged universities to favor wealthier applicants over those who were not as wealthy.

The Politico report, for example, said performance on standardized tests like the SAT/ACTs was related to family income.

The average scores for math and evidenced-based reading and writing were in the upper 400s for those who used the SAT fee waiver, according to 2017 data from the College Board. Those without fee waivers scored around the mid 500s for both categories. Fee waiver eligibility was based on whether students qualified programs such as the National School Lunch Program or household incomes fell within the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Income Eligibility Guidelines.

The report also said alumni donations favored richer children because schools were likely to accept such students to make alumni happy.

“Having a lower acceptance rate, which many colleges have sought to achieve by leaning more on early decision admissions; this hurts lower-income students who apply to more schools in order to compare financial aid packages,” the analysis said.

The review added that some universities used the Best Colleges ranking as “unofficial guidelines” to place higher in the list by spending more money and having an elite student population.

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