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Subject: How Penn and Columbia Game the US News College Rankings

An Observer
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Date Posted: 10:11:41 09/27/18 Thu
In reply to: An Observer 's message, "Re: I also wonder..." on 15:23:18 09/26/18 Wed

Go Green, you mentioned Penn's impressive rise in the US News college rankings from the first years of the list in the 1980s through the late 1990s. Yes, that rise happened to coincide with the early improvement in urban crime rates. West Philadelphia (and most US cities) were starting to become more hospitable places to live.

But there was something else also going on at that time.

Penn was the first US college to effectively "game" the US News rankings and that change also took place at this time. Over this period, Penn increased the percentage of its incoming freshman class from about 20% up to 49%. Penn's admission rates plunged and its students statistics improved substantially. Penn's US News ranking improved from the mid- and high teens to the high single digits.

Early Decision was such an effective tool to avoid direct competition with more popular (and generally higher ranked) peer universities that, today, almost all the top colleges admit about 49% of their freshman through either binding or non-binding early admissions.

When early admission programs were first introduced across the country in the early 1970s, they were really small tools, almost only a courtesy to applicants. Now they are the foundation of how top colleges seeks to recruit and select their students. Penn quite literally revolutionized what early admissions was.

Columbia benefited more than any Ivy from the plunge in US urban crime rates. But Columbia also has a quirk in how its data is reported to US News.

When the US News rankings first began, Columbia University only submitted the admissions and student statistics from Columbia College, omitting data from the School of Engineering, the School of General Studies and Barnard College. Not surprisingly, the CC data was much "better" than that of the other undergraduate divisions.

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