Date of Award
Doctor of Education
E. Grady Bogue
Jeff Aper, Ralph Brockett, Faye Julian
College rankings are widely depicted as vital tools for making informed decisions about the college selection process. Based on sales volume and the diversity of ratings currently in existence, there is little doubt that rankings are big business and are undeniably here to stay. On the other hand, very little factual information is available about students’ actual use of rankings in the college decision-making process.
It is clear that rankings such as those published by US News & World Report are now part of the landscape in our system of higher education. However, the problem is to establish the extent students use rankings and to determine user characteristics based on demographics and institutional type. The paramount purpose of this research study is to determine the importance of college rankings in national magazines on students’ institutional choice. Analysis of data provided by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) provides a greater understanding of the impact of rankings on students’ college decision-making process. Specific research questions for this study include:
1) Do students perceive college rankings to be an important factor in selecting their institution of choice?
2) Does the importance attached to rankings vary significantly when response patterns are examined between students attending ranked national universities and those schools that are not ranked?
3) Does the importance attached to rankings vary significantly when response patterns are examined between students attending ranked national liberal arts colleges and those colleges that are not ranked?
4) Does the importance attached to rankings vary significantly when response patterns are examined between students attending public or private national universities?
5) Does the importance attached to college rankings in national magazines vary significantly when response patterns are examined by gender, age, place of residence, distance from permanent home, academic achievement, financial status, or ethnicity?
Utilizing two US News ranking categories, a total of 40 institutions from 13 states in differing geographic regions were selected for this research. Public and private institutions and ranked and unranked schools were included in this analysis. In addition, each of these colleges participated in the CIRP for fall 2000. For this study, there are 14,541 first-time, full-time freshmen represented in the sample. Of these students, 8827 attend national universities while 5714 are enrolled in liberal arts colleges.
The majority of students included in this study placed some level of importance on college rankings. Ratings in newsmagazines are of particular importance to first-time, full-time freshmen attending ranked, private institutions. In addition, students who deem rankings as important are traditionally aged, live on-campus, attend a school a significant distance from home, and have a high level of financial status.
Based on the findings from this study, it is recommended that members of the higher education community rethink their stance on college rankings in national newsmagazines and acknowledge their influence on prospective college students.
Howard, Michele McManus, "Student Use of Rankings in National Magazines in the College Decision-Making Process. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2002.