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I'm a father trying to help my son understand his college options.

My son is looking at a liberal arts school in the United States that used to be quite competitive. From the college statistics web sites, I see that it now has a very high acceptance rate (>85%; although around 30% of students who are accepted attend). (The acceptance rate is high relative to what I consider to be the college's peer institutions.) I also know that, in the past ten years, there have been two scandals large enough to make the regional or national news (one with a racial component, one with a sexual component). I personally don't think that the scandals reflect any systematic issues, and I have no reason to think that the quality of instruction was affected. But I am wondering to myself whether the school hasn't developed a bad reputation of some sort.

If it has, then I would have these concerns:

  • Morale might be low on campus.
  • If the school has become less selective, then presumably that will lower academic standards.
  • If the school has a bad odor, it might make my son less attractive to job recruiters or graduate schools in the future.

What sources or resources can I use to evaluate whether this school has developed a poor reputation?

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  • Do you have historic information on the actual acceptance rate, say 20 years ago or more? In any event, if there are other, reasonably similar options they might well be better.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 13:06
  • @JonCuster I don't; and that's frustrating, because the U.S. government surely has the older data. They just haven't put it online.
    – adam.baker
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 12:09

3 Answers 3

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Universities are typically quite large institutions, with lots of students, so two scandals in ten years would not generally cause an observer to believe that there is any systematic issue that would warrant a loss of reputation. There are various sources you can consult to look at university rankings and reputations with respect to particular issues. I will give you some examples here, but they are the tip of the iceberg.

University academic rankings: For US university rankings you could look at the US News and World Report, the Times Higher Education rankings, the QS Top Universities ranking, the Forbes university rankings, and many others. (Some of these are only rankings for top universities, but some will include complete rankings on all colleges/universities within a broad scope.) These rankings typically incorporate information about research, teaching and other academic issues, some of which may be far removed from the quality of instruction for an undergraduate student.

Reputation and rankings with respect to particular issues: With a bit of search work you can probably find some ratings and rankings of US universities from various lobby groups, usually with respect to some aspect of their mission. For example, the educational advocacy group The Fire provide ratings and rankings of US universities with respect their policies and practices on academic freedom, free speech and due process. Other advocacy organisations might provide ratings or rankings on other issues of importance to them.

News coverage of universities: Another way to examine university reputation is to look at news coverage (with standard caveats on believing what you read in the news). News organs that comment specifically on higher education include the Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, US News (Education), EdSurge, CampusReform, University World News, The College Fix, The Diamondback, and many others. Most of these news organs should allow you to do a search for articles pertaining to a particular college/university of interest. So long as you are able to read the news with a critical eye, this may alert you to any systematic issues relating to the university that might be a concern.

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There's a world university ranking that relies only on reputation: the THE World Reputation Rankings. That might be the resource you're looking for. The caveat is that last I saw, once out of the top universities, it's hard to rank university reputation because the differences are not significant.

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This is not a complete answer to my question, but this website has compiled the U.S. News and World Report college rankings from the past thirty years or so. That makes it possible to observe trends in a college's ranking from that one source, at least.

https://andyreiter.com/datasets/

Since 1983, the magazine U.S. News and World Report has been ranking US universities and colleges. While I do not in anyway endorse the specific methodology used to construct these rankings, I know that many academic institutions and scholars use these rankings in their research and institutional assessment. I was in turn frustrated that historical rankings were not easily available anywhere online. The spreadsheets above contain all of the rankings from 1985-present for liberal arts colleges and from 1984-present for universities.

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