Business

Are Florida Universities Being Shortchanged by Standard-bearer of College Rankings?

By: Sunshine State News | Posted: March 2, 2013 3:55 AM
University of Florida

University of Florida | Credit: Eric Zamora - UF Photography


U.S. News & World Report has been the go-to high school students’ guide for researching the best colleges and universities in America for years. But, is it accurate and can it be gamed by universities who have figured out its method for compiling university rankings?

Four researchers believe they’ve come up with a more accurate method of generating rankings, and that bodes well for Florida’s flagship, higher-education institutions -- University of Florida and Florida State University.

The study’s authors -- Christopher Avery of Harvard University, Mark Glickman of Boston University, Caroline Hoxby of Harvard, and Andrew Merrick of University of Pennsylvania – believe their method reveals true evaluations of universities and cannot be manipulated in the same way.

Their formula, published in February’s Quarterly Journal of Economics, is based on students’ preferences. They derived their list by analyzing data from surveys of 3,240 “high- achieving" students from 396 high schools across 43 states.

“Our statistical model extends models used for ranking players in tournaments, such as chess or tennis,” their paper states. “When a student makes his matriculation decision among colleges that have admitted him, he chooses which college 'wins' in head-to-head competition. The model exploits the information contained in thousands of these wins and losses. Our method produces a ranking that would be difficult for a college to manipulate.”
Florida State University

Florida State University is one of the universities that would be able to seek unlimited tuition increases under HB 7129 | Credit: Flickr - whatnot


Consider the University of Florida lands at 54 in the most recent U.S. News’ ranking. Compare that with the revised ranking method, which moves UF up 14 spots to No. 40.  Meanwhile, FSU jumps from No. 97 in U.S. News’ ranking to 73.

The authors believe their ranking method would relieve the pressure on colleges and universities to engage in what they deem “strategic admissions behavior” that boosts the schools’ publicized rankings within the typical system. Admissions offices have an incentive, under most ranking systems, to have students apply that have no chance of meeting the requirements for admission to the university. The fact that the university can reject more students benefits their ranking.

The logic that follows:  If the onus was not on the institution to look good, their admissions could be fairer to applicants.


Christopher N. Avery, Mark E. Glickman, Caroline M. Hoxby, and Andrew Merrick, “A Revealed Preference Ranking of U.S. College and Universities,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 2013.

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