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Penn fell one spot — from 11th in 2008 to 12th this year — in the “Top 200 World Universities” ranking, a drop which higher education experts call insignificant.

The list is released annually by Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds, a higher-education networking company founded in 1990 by then-Wharton MBA student Nunzio Quacquarelli.

Director of Public Information for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities Tony Pals said rankings in general “tend not to have much of an impact” on students’ college choices, adding that Penn’s one-spot fall will have no discernable impact.

Despite this, University officials are pleased with Penn’s performance.

“We are delighted that we’re highly ranked once again,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann, noting that “plus or minus two spots is well within the margin of error.”

Among the Ivies, Penn came in fifth, behind Harvard University in first place, Yale University in third, Princeton University eighth and Columbia University in 11th. Cornell University was ranked 15th, Brown University 31st and Dartmouth College 54th.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, said that ordered lists like the Times-QS rankings can dramatically overstate the difference between schools that might be of a very similar quality.

“What these rankings can do is reinforce already-existing notions about what makes a college high, middle, or low quality in the popular perception,” he said.

The rankings, released last week, draw from six scores to produce an “overall score” by which universities are ordered.

An “academic peer review” score is weighted the most, at 40 percent. Faculty-student ratio and citations per faculty member share the next 40 percent, with the last 20 percent based on the proportion of international students and international faculty and responses to a survey given to outside employers.

The rankings’ methodology, Pals said, has drawn a considerable amount of criticism.

In an Oct. 8 article in Inside Higher Ed, Alisa Cunningham, vice president of research for the Institute for Higher Education Policy, took issue with the survey’s reliance on reputation.

Surveys based on reputation are “the least reliable way to do these comparisons,” Cunningham told IHE, because survey respondents use a wide range of different criteria to evaluate schools.

She added that the international nature of the Times-QS survey accentuates this problem.

“You’ve got entirely different contexts in different parts of the world,” she told IHE.

Hawkins agreed with this assessment.

“There are aspects of college and university administration that don’t get fully covered in these rankings,” he said, such as mission statements or “output factors” like graduates’ civic life and satisfaction with the education they received.

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