Over at the Huffington Post, Marty Kaplan writes about the kinds of corrosive influences of the annual ranking exercise by the biggest of them all: the US News:
Example: Many colleges have become slaves to SAT scores and high school GPAs - not because admissions officers think they're such reliable indicators of intelligence or achievement, but because U.S. News weights them so heavily. Despite lip service to diversity and individuality, it is more difficult than ever to make a successful case for admitting a dazzling but academically eccentric kid whose so-so numbers pull down the average and jeopardize a school's U.S. News ranking.
Example: In its formula, U.S. News uses the percentage of a class's alumni who give money to their college as a proxy for student satisfaction with their education. The actual size of a donation doesn't matter, nor the reason (football pride?) for their gift. A college that games this system -- say, offering graduating senior ten dollars, coupled with a request to "check this box, pledge two dollars a year to your alma mater, and for the next five years you'll be automatically enrolled in your alumni association" -- may not swell its endowment, but it could boost its ranking.