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Murphy takes aim at U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings

December 5, 2018

Washington - Sen. Chris Murphy is tussling with U.S. News and World Report over the publication’s popular college rankings, arguing that enrollment of low-income and minority students are not given enough weight.

The magazine responded late Tuesday, saying it did not have the data to do what Murphy - and other Democratic senators - are suggesting.

Murphy is one of six Democratic U.S. senators trying to press the publication into taking better account of a school’s diversity in the methodology it uses to rank the nation’s universities and colleges.

In a letter sent to magazine editor Brian Kelly this week, the senators said the magazine’s consideration of the number of students with Pell grants — federal tuition grants for low-income students — when it ranks colleges is not enough.

“U.S. News may claim that it now adequately addresses economic diversity by adjusting its new Pell metrics by the share of the student body receiving such grants,” the senators wrote. “But this adjustment still leaves in the background the question of how widely schools open their doors to such students. Moreover, it fails to consider the importance of diversity, inclusion, and representation in its own right.”

The senators also said the approach U.S. News and World Report takes to rank colleges “prioritizes prestige and exacerbates America’s deeply ingrained and racialized wealth disparities.”

U.S. News includes expert opinions of the quality of a school, faculty resources, student excellence, spending on students and alumni donations in its methodology.

Murphy and the other senators object that alumni donations are given a weight of 5 percent, while admission of Pell grant students is only weighed 2.5 percent and the graduation rate of those students 2.5 percent in the methodology that establishes the yearly rankings.

“U.S. News’s methodology reflects an assumption that a college’s success in fundraising matters to its quality as much as its success in serving students from every walk of American life. We believe judgments like that are indefensible,” the senators wrote.

Besides Murphy, the letter was signed by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

Kelly responded in a letter to the senators posted on the magazine’s web site late Tuesday.

“Our barrier to measuring social mobility has always been data - we cannot measure data we don’t have. Nor can we make fair comparisons among hundreds of schools,” Kelly said.

Kelly also told the senators that “despite some of the intemperate rhetoric in your letter…there is room for a useful and cordial exchange of ideas.

“This exchange would also clear up some evident misunderstandings about the higher education industry,” Kelly said.

In the magazine’s 2019 ranking of universities and colleges, Yale is ranked No. 3 and the University of Connecticut is ranked No. 63.

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