Since 1995 Reed College has refused to participate in the U.S. News and World Report "best colleges" rankings. Several times Reed's stance on the rankings has put the college in the national spotlight, most prominently in a Rolling Stone magazine article that raised serious concerns about the U.S. News best colleges issue.
Reed does participate in several other well-established college guides that do not assign numerical rankings to institutions, including Barron's, the Fiske Guide to Colleges, Peterson's, Colleges that Change Lives, Newsweek's College Guide, and the College Board's College Handbook. Each of these guides attempts to describe more fully the experience, student culture, and academic environment at different schools. Consistent with Reed's non-participation in U.S. News rankings, the college also does not participate in Money magazine's college-ranking issue.
Reed College has actively questioned the methodology and usefulness of college rankings ever since the magazine's best-colleges list first appeared in 1983, despite the fact that the issue ranked Reed among the top ten national liberal arts colleges. Reed's concern intensified with disclosures in 1994 by the Wall Street Journal about institutions flagrantly manipulating data in order to move up in the rankings in U.S. News and other popular college guides. This led Reed's then-president Steven Koblik to inform the editors of U.S. News that he didn't find their project credible, and that the college would not be returning any of their surveys. In 1996 an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by a leader of the student government at Stanford University praised Reed for refusing to provide information to U.S. News. The editorial advised prospective students to choose Reed if they "want to go to a school that isn't interested in selling out its education."
The college has repeatedly asked U.S. News simply to drop it from the best-colleges issue, yet the magazine continues to include Reed and to harvest data from non-Reed sources. Reed's subsequent yo-yo relationship with U.S. News has turned into quite a spectator sport. The year the college refused to submit data, the magazine arbitrarily assigned Reed the lowest possible in several categories and relegated the college to the lowest tier in its category, the most precipitous decline in the history of its ratings. The following year, responding to widespread criticism of its retribution, the magazine trumpeted Reed in its "best colleges" press release as being new to the "top tier" of national liberal arts schools. After that Reed was relegated to the "second tier" until this year when it was returned to the top tier in a tie for 47th place, even though the magazine's sources rate the college's academic reputation as high or higher than half of the top-ranked schools.
The college's decision was not without risk especially related to admission. To date, however, the action has received widespread enthusiastic support from parents, students, faculty members, high school college counselors, and other college and university presidents--several of whom have even confided that they wish they could refuse to participate. In the years since Reed has stopped participating, two measures of institutional vigoradmission and fundraisinghave been robust. This past year Reed received a record number of applications for admission and exceeded goals for its annual fund.
Reed's president, Colin Diver, cautions prospective students and parents against relying on rankings. Rankings, he says, are grounded in a "one-size-fits-all" mentality. "They are primarily measures of institutional wealth, reputation, influence, and pedigree. They do not attempt, nor claim, to measure the extent to which knowledge is valued and cultivated" on each campus. Reed doesnt rank its students. "Why should we participate in a survey that ranks colleges?" he asks.
Reed continues to stand apart from ephemeral trends, resisting pressures to abandon its core principles and its clear focus on academics. Studies continue to show Reed graduates earning doctorates or winning postgraduate fellowships and scholarships (such as Rhodes, Fulbright, Watson, and Mellon) at rates higher than all but a handful of other colleges. Says President Diver, "Reed is a paradigmatic example of a college committed--and committed solely--to the cultivation of a thirst for knowledge. Reed illustrates a relatively small, but robust, segment of higher education whose virtues may not always be celebrated by the popular press, but can still be found by those who truly seek them."