- Stillman College, a historically Black institution in Alabama, announced Monday it won’t participate in U.S. News & World Report’s undergraduate rankings, arguing metrics used to construct the listings are flawed.
- U.S. News’ list does not reflect Stillman’s educational value, Cynthia Warrick, its president, said in a message to campus. Warrick called out problems she saw with U.S. News’ use of graduation rates and standardized test scores.
- The private nonprofit institution’s rejection of the rankings is the latest in a string of withdrawals that began late last year among law schools. A few other institutions have stepped away from the undergraduate rankings.
College leaders have long come down on U.S. News’ rankings for relying on metrics they say are easily gamed, such as a survey that administrators complete on institutions similar to their own.
Despite the criticism, colleges have largely continued to participate in the system, as placing high on the rankings can bring benefits like lawmaker and donor attention. But that changed late last year, when a contingent of law and medical schools began to turn away from their respective rankings.
The revolt has begun to bleed into the undergraduate rankings. Since this year, a few institutions, including Colorado College and the Rhode Island School of Design, have said they’ll drop out of them.
A U.S. News spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Stillman’s announcement. The college enrolled 728 students in fall 2021, according to the most recently available federal data.
Warrick said in her message Monday that “there are organizations that do not accurately represent the impact that a Stillman degree has on the community, the state, and the nation. Chief among these organizations is the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings.”
U.S. News factors in college graduation rates to determine rankings placement. But Warrick noted that African American graduation rates are significantly lower than White students’ across the board.
Thus, a historically Black institution, which enrolls higher shares of African American students, will perform worse on this metric. Using graduation rates as a “quality measure for institutions is not a matter of comparing apples to apples,” Warrick said.
She said African American students similarly score lower than their peers on standardized assessments, another metric U.S. News used to craft the rankings. Stillman flipped to test-optional admissions in 2018.
Graduation rates can also be misleading, Warrick argued.
The current student cohort the U.S. Department of Education is using to measure graduation rates is full-time, first-year students who started college in 2015.
During that year, Stillman eliminated several athletics programs amid a budget crunch, which resulted in 200 students leaving the college.
“The rankings — based predominantly on graduation rate — do not explain Stillman’s drop in retention as a factor of student athletes’ transferring; instead, it is used as a measure of quality for our institution’s academic programs,” Warrick said.
Low-income students also historically graduate at lower rates. Stillman enrolls many students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants, a primary source of financial aid for low- and moderate-income students. More than 70% of Stillman students are Pell eligible, Warrick said.
“Stillman has found that the circumstances of poverty challenges these students to make decisions that call them in and out of enrollment,” she said. “Yet, Stillman remains committed to them. How does U.S. News measure our commitment? I opine that it does not.”
Warrick recommended U.S. News create an independent group to help develop new indicators to use on the rankings.