Remember when we reported that Columbia University announced, after the reporting scandal, that the school would not participate in this year’s US News & World Report college rankings? It seemed reasonable enough. Columbia, feeling it needed to make a public show of sanctioning itself for its dishonesty, would withdraw from the rankings for a year. Just like the NCAA bans universities from NCAA Tournament play after recruiting and other such scandals, Columbia would try to get ahead of bad publicity by imposing a punishment on itself. Not so fast!
While we, like many in the world of elite college admissions, were not expecting Columbia to appear in this year’s US News college ranking, Columbia appeared on the list nonetheless — dropping 16 slots to a tie for #18 in the largest tumble we’ve ever seen among the highly selective universities. So why oh why did Columbia appear on this year’s ranking when the school openly stated it would not participate? Because it’s not just up to Columbia. You see, US News must have decided that to publish a top colleges ranking without including one of our nation’s top schools — and not just any top school but an Ivy League institution — would discredit their own ranking system. And so US News chose to include Columbia — whether the school chose to participate or not. Instead, the publication relied upon publicly available data to discern the institution’s current ranking.
Now, some have argued that Columbia’s dramatic, unprecedented tumble in this year’s ranking reflects US News‘ vengeance for discrediting the publication’s ranking. We don’t disagree with this assessment. But we would argue that it was the act of including Columbia in this year’s ranking entirely, against the school’s express wishes, that was the ultimate act of vengeance on the part of the publication. After all, this power move might well have an impact on Columbia’s US News ranking for years to come. Forget about vengeance. College applicants look to the US News rankings when they consider colleges to which they’ll apply. If Columbia is lower down on the list, it raises the possibility that the school will attract fewer applicants and thereby have a slightly easier admission rate. This of course will not serve the school’s future US News ranking. And therein lies the ultimate revenge for US News — a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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