While year after year university deans and representative academics take to the podium to denounce US News Rankings for its weak methodology and bias, its influence remains unchallenged. For almost 30 years many North American universities have shaped their annual goals on their performance in the US News rankings and have attempted to manipulate the data sets accordingly. Despite its controversial tactics, the online table frequently receives up to 15 million hits on its first day of launch. To make it clear, US News Rankings wear their intentions on their sleeves. Disinterested in ‘intangibles’, they aim to provide focus on ‘finding the best academic value for money’. Yet rather than merely responding to a climate in which academic value is measured monetarily, US News have created the environment.
The often-derided U.S. News ranking system rests on two core elements, themselves composed of a mix of quantitative indicators and US News’ own perception of what constitutes value in education. Universities are first measured by their mission statement along the lines of the Carnegie classification that initially laid the foundation for the ranking’s approach when it first launched in 1983. Alongside the US, almost 50 other countries have been ranked on the same 10 indicators of quality, and the impact on the university field for America’s neighbor to the north is just as dominant. Canadian universities are similarly measured first and foremost on undergraduate academic reputation and retention, that is, the proportion of students who choose not to drop out. Why this latter indicator takes up 22.5% of the overall study is a mystery to most. The same is true with the 35% allocated to faculty salary. Despite criticisms, it is the universities themselves who choose to perpetuate the hegemony of the US News rankings, with 91.5 percent of the 1,365 colleges and universities surveyed returning their statistical data to deadline.
Prospective Canadian undergraduate students can view data on each university split into 16 indicators of academic performance. As with many rankings, the University of Toronto takes the top spot in Canada this year, and achieved a ranking of 14th in the world. The rest of the top 10, with global positioning indicated in brackets is:
(14) University of Toronto
(30) University of British Columbia
(44) McGill University
(96) University of Montreal
(108) University of Alberta
(141) McMaster University
(194) University of Ottawa
(203) University of Calgary
(230) University of Western Ontario
(234) Laval University
Despite its dominant influence at home in the United States, it seems that many Canadian students and parents prefer their own national populist ranking, the MacCleans Ranking. With the friendly rivalry between these two English-speaking North American nations always prevalent, it seems possible that Canadian universities are suspicious of the ease of manipulation that resonates through US News Rankings’ methodology. In the last two years at least five colleges have admitted to providing false data to US News, and the extent to which US News metrics are always changing means that Canadian academics often see a marked sense of national bias at play.