While Penn’s lower placement on the 2013 U.S. News and World Report rankings may seem like a precipitous fall from grace to many, some are arguing that the change will have little to no effect for the University’s reputation or application numbers.
This year, U.S. News named Penn the eighth-best university in the nation — three spots lower than its fifth-place ranking last year. The Wharton School retained its spot as the top undergraduate business school.
The annual rankings were released early Wednesday morning.
“If you look at the grouping of the schools, they’re entirely the same with just a little more shuffling,” said Michael Goran, a 1976 Penn alumnus and director of IvySelect College Consulting. “When you’re up in that stratosphere, it’ll basically stay the same. I don’t see any change in perception.”
Like last year, the top of the rankings featured several ties, with Harvard and Princeton universities tied for first place. In the 2012 rankings, Penn posted an identical score to the California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Chicago, finishing in a five-way tie for fifth.
This year, Penn tied Duke University for eighth place. Six Ivy League schools finished in the top ten, with Brown and Cornell universities tied for 15th.
“We always caution that rankings are not an exact science,” Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy said in an email. “Nevertheless, we think Penn’s stature in the very top tier of virtually any ranking methodology that comes along reflects very positively on the high caliber of our students and the incomparable strength of our faculty and schools.”
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda agreed.
“The rankings are not entirely surprising given the ties over the last couple of years,” he said in an email. “Of course I would prefer to go higher but we could also have seen even more of an adjustment.”
Others agreed that since Penn’s ranking remained in the top 10, the University will not be viewed any differently than it was last year.
“I don’t think that Penn was materially better when it was ranked fifth and is materially worse this year,” said Top Colleges Educational Consultant Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus. “It didn’t change overnight.”
Goodman stressed, however, that a more significant drop or rise in the rankings could affect a school’s reputation.
The U.S. News rankings take into account factors like undergraduate academic reputation, retention rates and student selectivity. Lucie Lapovsky, principal of the higher education firm Lapovsky Consulting, said that these factors limit the rankings’ accuracy in evaluating the nation’s top schools.
“What we most care about is what students learn, and our rankings don’t have anything about outcomes,” Lapovsky said. “It doesn’t really tell you what the value added is.”
She added that measures such as students’ graduate school acceptance rates and job prospects would be better indicators of the value of an education at a given university. Goodman, however, pointed to the value of U.S. News’ criteria in driving improvements at schools.
“On one hand, rankings do have the effect of causing people to apply to schools that are more highly ranked because there’s a perception that more people want to go to them and therefore they should want to go to them as well,” Goodman said. “But it also forces universities to present better programs, a better academic experience and a better campus experience overall.”
Goodman pointed to the University of Southern California and the University of Miami as examples of schools that have created new programs and seen their ranking improve.
For some students, the news of even a small drop in the rankings came as a surprise.
“When I saw that we weren’t getting the recognition I think we should get, it made me upset,” College sophomore Jared McIntyre said.
He added, however, that he believes the change likely will not impact Penn’s reputation. While the eighth place ranking is Penn’s lowest in over a decade, Goodman believes that staff and students concerned with reputation and application numbers shouldn’t be worried.
“The sky isn’t falling,” he said. “Perhaps the day isn’t as sunny as everybody at Penn would’ve liked, but it’s still pretty sunny.”