Colorado College withdraws from U.S. News & World Report rankings. What does that mean for students?

Colorado College’s Bernis Hall, a brick building with a front portico.
A photo of Colorado College’s Bernis Hall. Colorado College withdrew from participating in the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. (Jeffrey Beall / Wikipedia Commons)

Colorado College will no longer participate in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of “best colleges.” In withdrawing, college leaders said they believe the rankings equate wealth and privilege with academic quality — and go against the values of the school. 

Colorado College joins a growing list of high-profile law and medical schools that have announced they will no longer submit data to the publication. The school is one of the magazine’s highest-ranked liberal arts colleges to withdraw from participation.

As one of the state’s most selective schools — for the Class of 2026, it admitted 16% of applicants  — withdrawing from the rankings is probably a low-risk move for the college, though it may lower the school’s profile somewhat among out-of-state students. 

School leaders say the move will show prospective students the school is serious about its values of becoming a more diverse, antiracist campus that provides opportunity for students from a range of backgrounds. Currently, the student body is two-thirds white and just 8% of its students are eligible for federal Pell grants, a measure of economic status. Tuition alone is about $67,500 a year

Pedro de Araujo, vice president and dean of the college, said the college has tried to rethink how to attract and graduate students from Colorado, including those who are from low-income families and students of color. He said the school plans to use its own data to illustrate how it helps students graduate and achieve social mobility. The U.S. News & World Report rankings have not done well in explaining that, he said.

“This is step one,” de Araujo said. “It is continuing to fulfill our antiracism commitment, continuing to look at our internal policies and see if they’re not aligned with our values, and then start to change that.”

U.S. News & World Report will still rank the school, but based on publicly available data. That could mean the school may fall from its position as the 27th “best” liberal arts college.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are provided as a way for families to make college decisions. But the rankings have drawn scrutiny for years

Some college leaders have said the rankings favor reputation and institutional wealth over whether an education is top notch. Critics say the rankings even influence admission policies, leading schools to prioritize students with high SAT scores whose families can pay out of pocket without incurring debt, over recruiting diverse, well-rounded students. Colorado College officials say their admission policies have not been shaped by a desire for a higher ranking.

The annual rankings judge colleges on 17 measures, including graduation and retention rates, selectivity, and financial resources per student. 

Reputation weighs heavily into the factors compared with measures such as whether schools improve students’ long-term socioeconomic status. Student debt also factors into the rankings, and critics say schools that admit wealthier students are more likely to rank highly on that metric.

James Murphy of the college advocacy group Education Reform Now said there’s no downside for a school to stop participating in the rankings, especially if they want to diversify their campus.

“Racial and ethnic diversity play no role in the rankings as far as I can tell,” said Murphy, the group’s deputy director of higher education policy.

The Colorado College student body is about two-thirds white; students from low-income families make up only a small portion. Recently the college has sought to become more representative of the state, de Araujo said.

The school committed to becoming an antiracist campus that pushes for more diversity and inclusion, such as programs and support for students and reviews of policies. It made standardized testing optional on applications, in the hopes it can attract students from different backgrounds. It is committed to support students from Colorado financially and so they don’t pay more than the cost of attendance at the University of Colorado Boulder, considered the state’s premier public campus.

The number of freshmen from low-income families has increased slightly, Murphy said. 

Not cooperating with the magazine rankings may cost some national visibility and out-of-state applications, Murphy said. 

It’s less likely to diminish applications from students from Colorado, students of color, or those from low-income families, he said.

In its announcement, Colorado College said it would post online graduation and retention rates, diversity, and post-graduate success. The college has not said whether it would stop releasing student characteristics and other information that U.S. News & World Report feeds into its rankings. 

De Araujo said school leaders are committed to becoming more representative of the state and to help students.

“This is not one of those things where you have a checkbox, you check them and then you’re done,” he said. “I think pulling out of U.S. News was a good step forward. But we’re not done.”

Correction: This article has been changed to correct Colorado College’s admission rates.

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

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