U.S.News Rankings Pose Serious Challenge to DU

Let’s face it, rankings are often arbitrary – especially when it comes to colleges and universities. However, the rankings game plays a major role in college selection as students favor high ranking universities as well as an outstanding campus experience. Equally important, parents are willing to pay a ‘premium’ for a school like DU – a school which provides a great atmosphere and has a ‘Top 100’ designation. The recent dip in DU’s rankings, 9 places, from U.S. News and World Report from 87th to 96th is cause for concern.

U.S. News gathers data from and about each school in up to 16 areas related to academic excellence. Each indicator is assigned a weight (expressed as a percentage) based on U.S. News’ judgments about which measures of quality matter most.

U.S. News  did change their scoring metrics by adding more weight to  “student outcomes” from 30 percent to 35 percent – the most weight given to any category. While University officials indicated this factor as a major reason for the decline, Denver must be falling short on a relative basis versus their peers. More than one-third of a school’s rank comes from “student outcomes” – its success at retaining and graduating students within 150 percent of normal time (six years). Says U.S. News, “It receives the highest weight in our rankings because degree completion is necessary to receive the full benefits of undergraduate study from employers and graduate schools.” While the weight may explain some of the change, there is no doubt that further erosion in DU’s ratings could push Denver out of the Top 100 Universities. Fair or not, that would be a disaster – both academic reputation and financially for DU, a University that depends 70% on student tuition.

According to US News DU is more expensive than other private institutions, with tuition and fees for the 2017-2018 school year at $48,669 and room and board at $12,612, according to U.S. News data. However, the average financial aid package for the 2016 school year was $30,824. And a further decline under 100 is certain to impact the quality of students who matriculate to the University of Denver and the premium tuition DU can demand.

And a fall to a middling ranking, below 100, is sure to impact the quality and number of potential applicants to the University of Denver. Denver was a tepid #173 in engineering for undergraduates while Daniels School of Business for graduate studies checked in at #92. Still, add the explosive front range population growth and business expansion in Denver, this should be an ideal time for Denver to move-up – not fall backwards.

Again, it may be convenient to challenge the methodology. For example, Denver ranked #58 on ‘value’. But, will Denver’s perceived ‘value’ drop with falling national rankings? And, all universities are subject to the same U.S. News measures – so it is hard to argue that DU is faring well on a relative basis against other high performing peers.

And schools like Clarkson, Drexel and RIT, which finished just outside the ‘Top 100″, are sure to be battling to make it into the Top 100 next go around.

DU’s current University administration must look in the mirror to see if their current strategies and priorities are detracting from the University’s reputation and negatively impacting the selection, development and retention of students. And, most importantly, is the curriculum geared to skill building and eventual career readiness.

A further decline could be catastrophic to the progress DU has made over the last thirty years. The Chancellor and her team must take a serious look at their current course and be prepared to make adjustments.