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Brandeis falls 16 spots in U.S. News’ college rankings

On Monday, Sept. 18, U.S. News and World Report released a new set of college rankings after completing an overhaul of their ranking system. Many universities saw their rankings change, including Brandeis, whose ranking fell 16 spots to from number 44 to number 60 in the “National Universities” category.

U.S. News uses their own formulas for their “for-profit rankings business,” which is seen as “America’s most influential, and administrators, however philosophically hostile they might be to rankings, often embrace them as marketing tools.”

It was reported that many public universities saw a rise in their ranking, while many private universities saw a fall in their ranking because of a new algorithm that “represented an effort to account for deals that higher education leaders routinely talk up, like transforming the lives of economically disadvantaged students.” It was also found that “The reworked formula assigned greater emphasis to graduation rates for students who received need-based Pell grants and retention. It also introduced metrics tied to first-generation college students and to whether recent graduates were earning more than people who had completed only high school.”

The Hoot reached out to Brandeis’ Office of Communications, asking if “Brandeis [will] be making any changes to its admissions process or academic programs as a result of these ranking methodology changes,” and inquiring how “the administration expect[s] this ranking drop to affect the university going forward, if at all.”

Senior Content and Marketing Specialist Jarret Bencks MS ’20 responded, telling The Hoot that “When the metrics align with our strategic priorities as a university, as outlined in the Framework for the Future, we will work to enhance them. For example, we want our faculty’s work to be properly attributed, so that is an area of interest that we were working on before it became more important in the rankings.”

On the day that the rankings changed, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz wrote an email to Brandeis’ students, faculty and staff. In this email, President Liebowitz said that “the U.S. News and World Report published its annual college rankings list. The organization implemented significant changes in methodology this year that led to many dramatic shifts in the rankings by strongly favoring some universities that had been lower in the rankings previously. In many cases, these changes in methodology removed or decreased the weighting of indicators that were favorable to private institutions like Brandeis.”

Liebowitz added that “Among the top 100 schools on the list, the median change (positive or negative) last year was 2 to 3 spots: This year it is about 8 spots. For example, one highly-regarded national research institution fell 29 spots. Brandeis dropped 16 spots on the list to 60 from 44, despite maintaining the same raw score we received last year. Some other local schools also saw significant changes.”

Liebowitz also explained what the changes in methodology entailed, noting that the changes included “reducing the significance of faculty salaries,” “reducing the weight of financial resources per student” and “eliminating metrics on class size, faculty with a terminal degree, alumni giving and high school standing,” adding that all of these factors “tend to be more favorable at private institutions.” He noted that “Brandeis’ ranking was particularly affected by the decision to remove class size as a factor, as our class sizes are small–60 percent of our classes have 19 students or fewer–and that point of pride for the university accounted for a significant 8 percent of the prior score.”

Liebowitz also told Brandeis community members that “Another significant factor now is ‘expected graduation rates,’ rather than actual graduation rates. This metric generally favors large public institutions. For example, one large California public university, which has a far lower actual graduation rate than Brandeis, performs better in this metric because it outperforms its ‘expected’ rate. While our actual graduation rate is significantly higher than that of most other institutions, the focus on ‘expected graduation rate’ negatively impacts our score. We want to be clear, however: We are proud of our high graduation rates, regardless of how they impact our rankings.”

Liebowitz also took an optimistic view, writing that “On the plus side, Brandeis continues to be ranked in the Top 50 of the ‘Best Value Schools’ category, moving up two spots to 39, and we improved in the ‘Top Performers on Social Mobility’ ranking, moving up 23 spots. In the ‘Undergraduate Teaching Programs – National Universities’ ranking, Brandeis moved up 6 spots into the Top 50 at 48.” He added that Brandeis sees “other areas of opportunity: We have been working with faculty to connect their scholarship profiles to Brandeis, as the number of research citations is now an increased part of the methodology. By linking their profiles, metrics related to faculty research are captured and linked to our ranking. The number of faculty who have created these links has grown in recent years but remains lower than is needed to represent our research productivity. The citations metrics now contribute as much as 4 percent of the College Report score.”

He closed by ensuring that “no ranking can define what school is the best option for any individual student. For the past 75 years, Brandeis has developed significant and distinctive strengths that have made it an outstanding choice for our students. We will continue to refine and excel in those areas that align with the university’s strategic goals.”

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