Rhode Island School of Design won’t take part in U.S. News undergraduate rankings. Will more follow?


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Dive Brief:

  • The Rhode Island School of Design announced Monday it will withdraw from U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges undergraduate rankings, saying the controversial lists do not reflect the value of its students or academic programs.
  • The private nonprofit college, known as RISD, appears to be the first to reject U.S. News’ undergraduate listing since a contingent of law and medical schools began stepping away from the rankings covering them late last year. 
  • Crystal Williams, RISD’s president, said in a statement the rankings system relies on “exclusion and inequity” and she hopes other colleges stop participating in it.

Dive Insight:

Observers have waited to see if the three-month exodus of law and medical schools from the rankings would give way to colleges disowning the undergraduate version. 

While rejection by dozens of medical and law schools amounts to a strike against the rankings, the Best Colleges iteration is by far U.S. News’ most notable. Though groups of colleges have pondered abandoning those rankings before, and individual undergraduate institutions have dropped out, they haven’t done so en masse.

The law and medical schools cite various reasons for no longer cooperating with U.S. News, which has said it will still rank the law schools using publicly available data. Mostly, though, the schools say the rankings model reinforces inequalities and penalizes institutions that want to promote public-service jobs.

RISD said U.S. News’ methodology does not capture how its students learn. The college also referenced a recent alumni survey that showed a majority of them “were proud of and happy with their RISD education.”

“We believe that these outcomes speak to the impact and effectiveness of a RISD education,” Williams said.

RISD, based in Providence, enrolls about 2,570 students, according to the most recently available federal data. Most of those are undergraduates.

Until last year, U.S. News included RISD on its list specific for art schools but did not rank it. 

However, RISD recently changed its curricula, resulting in the magazine categorizing it as a regional school. 

While RISD now ranks highly among regional universities in the North at No. 3, Williams said the college has little in common with other institutions on that list. This was the catalyst for RISD rethinking its participation in the rankings and the criteria used to create them, she said. 

“Many of those criteria have been written about in critical terms and publicly questioned, and are unambiguously biased in favor of wealth, privilege and opportunities that are inequitably distributed,” Williams said. 

While colleges often trumpet their high placements on rankings, many administrators privately abhor their chokehold on admissions. Rankings have come under scrutiny for using metrics such as a survey officials complete on peer institutions, which critics argue are easily gamed and have little bearing on a college’s success.

Colleges, including those with medical or law schools that have dropped the rankings, have stuck with the undergraduate version, though. Yet a select few undergraduate institutions have forsworn the rankings in the past. Reed College, in Oregon, became the first institution to turn away from the rankings in 1995, a decision it is still known for today

Other recent events have eroded the rankings’ legitimacy. 

A Columbia University mathematics professor discovered evidence suggesting it provided U.S. News false data for the rankings, leading the Ivy League institution to investigate.

And last year, a former Temple University business school dean was sentenced to 14 months in prison and fined $250,000 for his role in the school submitting false data to inflate its U.S. News ranking. The University of Southern California also dropped out of the magazine’s graduate school rankings for its Rossier School of Education after submitting incorrect data.

U.S. News declined to comment Tuesday. The publication has previously argued its medical school listings “provide students with valuable data and solutions.” It’s also said it will rework its law school rankings in response to some of law schools’ criticisms.


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