The Ivy Coach Daily

February 13, 2021

Northeastern’s Rise in the Rankings

Northeastern reverse-engineered their ranking in US News & World Report. But who can fault them? All colleges reverse-engineer their rankings. Northeastern just happened to be an early adopter thanks to the foresight of its then-president Richard Freeland.

We know we’ll catch some flack for saying it but when top students include Northeastern University on their initial college lists that they present us, we often ask them if they meant to include Northwestern University instead. In most instances, the answer is yes — Northeastern was included by mistake. They simply confused the two. Northwestern, of course, is one of America’s most highly selective institutions and while Northeastern has indeed been on the rise in the rankings through the years — which we’ll get to in this post — it’s not in the ballpark of Northwestern. We know, Northeastern faculty, students, alumni, and parents are about to write in that we’re wrong, that Northeastern is one of the finest universities in the nation, but allow us to have a difference of opinion. Northeastern is a fine school. It’s just not Northwestern. And its rise in the US News & World Report rankings in recent years can directly be attributed to its masterful manipulation of said rankings. But before you Northeastern folks want to rip us a new one, do read on as we trust you’ll appreciate this post.

Northeastern Masterfully Manipulated the US News & World Report Rankings

It’s not like Northeastern is the only manipulator of college rankings. All colleges, in many ways, manipulate the rankings. As but one example, the vast majority of elite institutions encourage applicants to apply who are not qualified to earn admission. And why? To boost their application numbers and invariably lower their admission rates. They’re drumming up demand by sending glossy brochures to students who don’t have a shot of getting in. But Northeastern’s rise from a US News & World Report ranking of 162 to its current ranking of 49 has been nothing short of astonishing. So how exactly has Northeastern so dramatically turned around its ranking? Well, you’ll find no better answer than in Jeffrey Selingo’s recent book Who Gets In And Why: A Year Inside College Admissions.

All Universities Manipulate the Rankings But Northeastern Did It Better

As Selingo writes in his book, “For Northeastern to vault into the top 100, university officials determined they had to recruit higher-caliber students to boost the SAT scores and high school class rank of the incoming class. The hope then was that those students would stay enrolled to increase the university’s retention and graduation rates. ’It was very mathematical and very conscious,’ [Northeastern’s then-president Richard] Freeland told Boston Magazine in 2014. ’Every year we would sit around and say ’Okay, well here’s where we are, here’s where we think we might be able to do next year, where will that place us?’…’We did play other kinds of games,’ Freeland admitted. ’You get credit for the number of classes you have under twenty [students], so we lowered our caps on a lot of our classes to nineteen just to be sure.’”

Northeastern’s Reverse-Engineering of the Rankings Led to a Truly Stronger University

This, of course, is just a snippet of how Northeastern’s then-president smartly reverse-engineered the university’s ranking so it could be listed among our nation’s top schools. Frankly, we view Freeland as one of the most forward-thinking presidents in any American university’s history. You see, not only did Freeland dramatically improve Northeastern’s standing in the annual rankings but, in doing so, we’d argue he made the university’s academics and reputation markedly stronger all because he was able to attract more intellectually curious, engaged applicants. The man deserves not criticism but rather our praise for doing what any good businessperson would do — and a president of a university is indeed the leader of a business — and so too does journalist Jeffrey Selingo for bringing the man’s story to light in such a straightforward and compelling way.

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