U.S. News Says It Won’t Include Sexual-Assault Stats in Its College Rankings

Despite push from Congress, <em>U.S. News</em> says it’s rankings are focused on academics.

 A general view during the college commencement ceremony for Westminister College on June 1, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
May 9, 2014, 1 a.m.

U.S. News & World Re­port will not in­clude cam­pus sexu­al-as­sault data in its an­nu­al col­lege rank­ings this year, des­pite pleas from mem­bers of Con­gress.

The pub­lic­a­tion, which serves as a one-stop shop for many high school seni­ors and their par­ents seek­ing in­form­a­tion on pro­spect­ive col­leges, an­nounced in a blog post that it will fea­ture the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment’s sexu­al-as­sault data on the in­di­vidu­al pages for schools. The blog post also in­cluded the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment’s re­cently re­leased list of the 55 col­leges and uni­versit­ies that are cur­rently un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion for their hand­ling of sexu­al-as­sault cases.

But U.S. News also said that it will not in­clude that data in its meth­od­o­logy for rank­ing col­leges, ar­guing that the in­form­a­tion provided by the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment is “not us­able to meas­ure re­l­at­ive cam­pus safety among col­leges,” U.S. News spokes­wo­man Lucy Ly­ons said.

U.S. News Ed­it­or and Chief Con­tent Of­ficer Bri­an Kelly elab­or­ated: “Any crime data any­where is tough to col­lect, as you know. And cam­pus crime data has been for many years par­tic­u­larly no­tori­ous for be­ing un­re­li­able. The re­port­ing is sketchy, the defin­i­tions of crimes is some­times sketchy, schools are in­con­sist­ent in what they re­port, stu­dents are in­con­sist­ent with what they re­port.”¦ And you know a lot of schools are still not re­port­ing it ac­cur­ately. So we’re not do­ing it as a com­par­at­ive. You can’t com­pare apples to apples [here].”

However, even if bet­ter data were avail­able, U.S. News’s own data dir­ect­or, Robert Morse, adds on his blog, the pub­lic­a­tion would not in­clude sexu­al-as­sault in­form­a­tion in its al­gorithm. “Cam­pus safety is not among the factors U.S. News be­lieves is dir­ectly tied to aca­dem­ic qual­ity, and we be­lieve that it should not be part of our main rank­ing meth­od­o­logy, even if it could be meas­ured,” Morse wrote last week.

Reps. Jack­ie Spei­er, D-Cal­if., and Patrick Mee­han, R-Pa., who were among 12 House mem­bers who sent a let­ter to U.S. News last month ask­ing that the data be in­cluded, said that the pub­lic­a­tion had not aler­ted them of its de­cision. But Spei­er ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment.

“I think that they mis­judge their read­er­ship,” Spei­er said, after hear­ing of the de­cision. “The very first ques­tion on cam­pus tours that is asked by par­ents in the Q&A ses­sions is, tell us about what you’re do­ing about safety for girls on cam­pus…. There’s a huge wake-up call in this coun­try by par­ents who are very alarmed by the fact that 20 per­cent of col­lege co-eds will be either sexu­ally as­saul­ted or [ex­per­i­ence] an at­temp­ted sexu­al as­sault … dur­ing their col­lege ca­reer. And that is sig­ni­fic­ant. And if U.S. News & World Re­port doesn’t think that that’s a sig­ni­fic­ant ele­ment in rank­ing the uni­versit­ies, then they’ll hear from their read­ers, I’m sure.”

Mee­han said he was “en­cour­aged” by the pub­lic­a­tion’s de­cision to in­clude any sexu­al-as­sault rat­ings on its site, but ad­ded in a state­ment: “My hope is that U.S. News & World Re­port will a de­vel­op a means to meas­ure the re­spons­ive­ness of col­leges and uni­versit­ies to in­cid­ents of sexu­al as­sault and the avail­ab­il­ity of re­sources crit­ic­al to vic­tims like coun­sel­ing and med­ic­al care. The ob­ject­ive is to in­centiv­ize a vic­tim-centered ap­proach among col­leges to ad­dress­ing sexu­al vi­ol­ence on cam­pus.”

Mee­han said he is hope­ful that the move is the first step in a longer con­ver­sa­tion with mem­bers of Con­gress about the is­sue.

Kelly agrees that sexu­al-as­sault stat­ist­ics are a ma­jor con­cern for par­ents and stu­dents dur­ing the school-search pro­cess, but he ar­gued that they are among a num­ber of factors that fall out­side of the pur­view of the rank­ings, which are fo­cused solely on aca­dem­ic stand­ards. However, Kelly said that along­side the sexu­al-as­sault in­form­a­tion in­cluded on each col­lege page in U.S. News’s 2014 rank­ings (which come out in early Septem­ber), they’ll provide in­form­a­tion on how par­ents and stu­dents can learn more about crime and safety on a par­tic­u­lar cam­pus. “It’s up to you, the par­ents and the stu­dents to pur­sue that,” Kelly said.

But he also ad­ded that, while the de­cision not to in­clude sexu­al as­sault in the rank­ings ap­plies “for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” it could change as data im­proves. “We take this very ser­i­ously. We’re not say­ing we won’t deal with this.”¦ We con­tin­ue to fol­low this. We know it’s im­port­ant. Just some­times data can’t do what you like it to do,” he said.

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