Northeastern Rankings Update

The early fall is a busy time for rankings publications. Recent high-profile rankings have been published by U.S. News and the Wall Street Journal. All rankings publications have their pros and cons, and you would be hard pressed to find two people with the same opinion about what should be included in such rankings.  In fact, both of these high-profile rankings have changed their methodologies this year, resulting in a shakeup throughout each list.

U.S. News decided to place more emphasis on student outcomes, such as graduation rates, debt after graduation, and salaries 10 years after graduation.  They added a focus on first-generation students and included more data not sourced from the universities themselves.  This last part is problemmatic, as the third-party data about Northeastern is misleading, and most consumers of rankings don’t read the fine print to understand how the data is sourced and what the details behind it are.  The motivation for U.S. News to use third-party data is their concern that universities will increasingly “opt-out” of submitting ranking data, as did many Law and Medical schools over the past year, so they prefer to source it themselves regardless of inaccuracies in what they are using.

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal dramatically changed their ranking methodology, leaving their old data partner, Times Higher Education, in favor of working with College Pulse and Statista. A large portion of the Wall Street Journal methodology relies on a survey of our students conducted by College Pulse. Although we have asked, we do not know how many of our students responded to this survey; the methodology states that a minimum of 50 responses is needed for us to be ranked. We hope to learn more through continued inquiry over the next few months.

While conversations with U.S. News about the data they are using for Northeastern have not yet borne fruit, these conversations are ongoing and will, we hope, lead to a better understanding by U.S. News of the complexity of Northeastern and our data.  UDS, along with External Affairs, will continue to work toward a change for the better in the future.

Although we may not agree with every metric included in a rankings methodology, we can all agree that it is worthwhile to be an informed consumer of rankings. If you are looking at rankings just out of curiosity, or because you are a parent of a high school student, please be sure to read the methodology thoroughly and understand how the data is sourced and what population the data is based upon. In this way you will have a better understanding of what you are reading and get past just the rank to the real meaning of the data.