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Institute Places Sixth in U.S. News Rankings

By Naveen Sunkavally

MIT ranked sixth among the best colleges and undergraduate universities in America, according to the U.S. News & World Report's annual survey, released on August 25. The Institute placed fifth last year.

Harvard University, which lost its number one ranking last year, shared the top spot this year along with Princeton University while Duke University and Yale University both placed third. Stanford came in fifth, and Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania finished tied for seventh. California Institute of Technology, Brown University, Columbia University, and Emory University shared the ninth position.

The survey used eight primary criteria in the determination of its rankings: academic reputation, retention, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, value added, and the alumni giving rate.

Compared to the top five universities, MIT was weak in the retention (ranked 15th) and the value added categories. Retention accounted for 20 percent of the score, and value added accounted for 5 percent.

New category criticized

The results of the survey, however, have met with some criticism, especially as it pertains to the value added category.

According to U.S. News, value added measures "the school's role in the academic success of students as well as how efficient the school is playing is that role."

The survey computed the value added for each school by using an average of standardized test scores of the Class of 1990 and combining that with the average amount the school spent on that class to obtain a predicted graduation rate. That predicted graduation rate was then subtracted from the actual graduation rate to attain the value added for the school.

According to the survey, the value added of an MIT education is -7.

"I do not believe that the value added' measure is either well-named or useful," said President Charles M. Vest.

"According to this, there's no value added for a Harvard education, Princeton education, Stanford education, MIT education, Caltech education, a University of Chicago education, a Carnegie Mellon education," said Kenneth D. Campbell, director of the News Office.

"Maybe there should not be a ranking from one to 10 separated by tenths of a point; rather there should be a grouping of the 10 best schools, then the second tier," said Undergraduate Association President Dedric A. Carter '98.

"Using hair-splitting differences to obtain a detailed ordering isn't useful," Vest said.

Last school year, criticisms of the survey prompted several undergraduate student councils, including those of MIT and Stanford, to propose a boycott of the U.S. News annual report.

"The student government at a major technological institution and world leader such as MIT has an obligation to comment and get involved in issues that affect the larger academic community," Carter said.

However, Vest said that withholding information would only make the the rankings more artificial if the survey used guesses rather than statistical information.

Report also praises MIT

The survey highlighted some positive aspects of the Institute.

MITranked high in academic reputation, placing behind Princeton and Stanford, which both tied for first.

"It was good to see the percentage of alumni who make financial donations to the institution is very high. It also was good for our strong commitment to financial aid to be recognized by ranking us well as a good buy," Vest said.

Perhaps the most important positive statement in the survey is "the very fact that MIT [is] clearly in top handful of institutions" and its continuing effort to promote and improve its excellence, Vest said. "As in all of this, we should do what we think is right and important and let the rating chips fall where they may."