Sociologists examine negative impact of higher ed rankings
- According to new research in the Russell Sage Foundation's "Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability," data-based accountability measures like rankings, performance evaluations and test scores often have negative impacts on the institutions they're measuring.
- Sociologists Wendy Nelson Espeland and Michael Sauder focused on law school rankings, like those from U.S. News and World Report, in their research, looking at how they influence a school's power and available resources and opportunities.
- Among the negative impacts of rankings: Attempts by institutions to game the system, reductions in diversity, and apathy regarding ethics.
Gaming the system has long been a concern as it relates to rankings. A number of institutions have notably been caught trying to do so in the U.S. News rankings before, arguably tarnishing their images more than a lower ranking would have.
In general, rankings are probably best taken with a grain of salt, as the standing of a college or university (or K-12 school or system) can vary greatly depending on which metrics a publication or other organization used and how much weight was given to each.
For Espeland and Sauder's part, they recommend institutions mitigate the negative effects by relying on more metrics — particularly those that are qualitative rather than quantitative — than just a single ranking, provide transparency on their limitations and perhaps even following dental schools' lead in not sending data to U.S. News and other rankings organizers en masse.
- Russell Sage Foundation Engines of Anxiety
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