What’s in a number?: Administration, students on influence of U.S. News college rankings

Schools are ranked according to criteria like graduation rate and amount of financial resources available per student. (Photo courtesy of U.S News)

Schools are ranked according to criteria like graduation rate and amount of financial resources available per student. (Photo courtesy of U.S News)

Dozens of elite law and medical schools have removed themselves from the U.S. News & World Report Rankings since last year. While some undergraduate institutions have followed suit, the vast majority, including Lafayette, show few signs of dropping the list any time soon.

According to current U.S. News rankings, Lafayette is tied for number 39 for “national liberal arts colleges,” number 63 for “best undergraduate teaching” and number 77 for “best value schools.”

President Nicole Hurd, who founded and served as the CEO of a college access program, said that the college has no plans to remove itself from such rankings. She added that companies like U.S. News cooperate with law and medical schools for most data.

“For undergrad it’s a bit different,” she said. “Most of the data they use they could get without coming to us.”

Other undergraduate college presidents have removed their schools from the U.S. News rankings for its “flawed methodology” of equating “academic quality with institutional wealth,” and for measuring the value of students and academic programs based on different “factors” than the university itself uses, among other reasons.

Hurd has mixed thoughts about the rankings.

“I think there are places where it’s helpful to keep us making sure that we stay to kind of our true north on things like class size,” Hurd said. “I also think it can be misused or hyped up because it’s got a consumer lens to it.”

She added that the difference in quality between a school ranked 25th and a school ranked 40th, for example, is actually smaller than the rankings might suggest. These rankings also fail to encapsulate details about the college experience that are difficult to quantify, including the feeling that one has when one steps on campus, according to Hurd.

Forrest Stuart, the vice president for enrollment management, wrote in an email that the rankings don’t influence the enrollment team’s work.

According to Inside Higher Ed, colleges may be reluctant to remove themselves from the list because trustees are in favor of remaining on them, because they fear offending U.S. News and dropping in the rankings, and because these rankings offer a way to boast about the school to prospective students.

The rankings for Lafayette in U.S. News played a role in the decision Daniela Spera ’26 made to attend the college.

“I think [the rankings] make the applicants feel better about the school they’re applying to because it gives them a definitive measurement of how good the school is,” she said. “I think [the ranking] also makes the students feel better about themselves.”

Considering the numerous ways that prospective and current students use the rankings, Hurd said she doesn’t expect them to go away any time soon.

“Whether or not we participate there, those undergraduate rankings are gonna exist, and I would be floored if they go away,” Hurd said.