September 17, 2002

C.U. Stays Steady in National Rankings

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In its 2003 survey of the nation’s colleges and universities, U.S. News and World Report has ranked Cornell 14th for the second consecutive year. Its rank places it below all of its Ivy League peers except for Brown University,

The magazine placed Princeton University at the top of its list again, with Harvard and Yale Universities both ranked second. The California and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology, Duke and Stanford Universities and the University of Pennsylvania all tied for fourth. Among the other Ivy League institutions, Dartmouth College, Columbia University and Brown placed ninth, 10th and 17th respectively.

“The notion that an ordinal ranking among schools tells you something dramatic is not something we agree with,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.


Although it placed 14th overall, Cornell’s academic reputation was ranked ninth this year. University officials are not disappointed with Cornell’s overall rank, according to Dullea, who noted that the University has received a similar rating for the past decade, with one exception. In 1999 the University occupied the number six spot.

“Putting [different universities] together and number-crunching to produce an outcome shouldn’t be taken seriously,” Dullea said.

The indicators that U.S. News uses to calculate academic quality fall into seven categories, according to the magazine’s website. They weigh assessment by administrators at peer institutions, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving and graduation rate performance, which is the difference between the proportion of students expected to graduate and the proportion who actually do.

In the past, U.S. News editors have changed their methodologies for calculating scores, which has sometimes resulted in dramatic differences in the rankings from year to year. They did not, however, modify their methodology this year, according to Dullea.

Despite its flaws, many students, especially high schools seniors, pay close attention to the magazine’s annual list.

“I think there is an understanding among students who apply to prestigious institutions that U.S. News often creates inaccurate representations of very good schools,” said Camilla Welsch ’03. “However, it is in a high-schooler’s best interests to consider the rankings. After all, it is what dictates their future employers’ opinions of the school.”


Other students suggested that high-schoolers refer to the rankings but do not make their college decisions on them.

“It’s a good place to start, but basing your college search on it is definitely not the way to go,” said Mike Pape ’04.

Kim Gillece ’04 expressed a similar view.

“I think a high ranking looks good. However, I don’t think it should be the primary factor in deciding what schools to apply to or attend,” she said.

The magazine’s survey has become such an important source of information for high school students deciding where to apply that college officials across the country have begun to sell their schools, sending their brochures and viewbooks to officials at their peer institutions, in order to increase their school’s reputation scores in the U.S. News survey, according to an article in The Washington Post.

Cornell does not participate in this type of lobbying, according to Dullea.

Dullea noted that people should pay attention to “more rigorously undertaken reviews,” such as the National Research Council’s annual survey of individual doctorate programs.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin