AEI: School prestige might be inflated

If you think attending a school marked “highly competitive” in publications such as Barron’s or US News translates into a better education, well think again.

A new American Enterprise Institute  report suggests the only thing you might be getting is a bigger tuition bill. Since 1990, high school GPAs have become greatly inflated from an average 2.68 to an average of 3.0 in 2009. Not only that, the number of applicants has ballooned by over a million students over the past 20 years.

At the same time, the numbers of less competitive schools that formerly took the more at-risk students has declined by 13 percent while those being listed as “more competitive” have increased.

“A higher ranking can lead families to choose one school over another. Indeed, research has shown that cracking the top fifty in the US News rankings leads to a substantial increase in an institution’s applications,” the AEI researchers wrote. “High rankings boost an institution’s prestige to charge top-dollar tuition.”

The average tuition at the top 20 schools now stands at around $41,000 per year.

The ranking system creates what the researchers call “perverse incentives to focus on recruiting and selective admissions rather the student outcomes and quality.” 

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