Sep 12, 2012 11:19 AM EDT

U.S. College Rankings 2012: Most Unaffordable Colleges Always Ranked The Highest; (Commentary)

U.S. News and World Report released its famous -- or notorious, depending on your perspective -- college rankings at midnight.

It would appear as if the same colleges always make the top of the list. In the national university category, Harvard and Princeton tied for No. 1, while Williams and Amherst colleges came in first and second, respectively, among liberal arts colleges

What is often ignored when U.S. News releases its college rankings is whether they are relevant and affordable. Here are few reasons why you should not take this list seriously.

U.S. News' methodology rewards schools that spend more cash. Schools get brownie points for sinking money into new buildings, posh student unions, athletic facilities and higher teacher salaries. And guess who is paying for all that? The rankings don't encourage schools to keep their tuition lower, and the rankings mavens don't care if all this spending ends up forcing students into greater debt. Schools aren't penalized for graduating students with onerous student loans.

U.S. News also doesn't put into consideration about what type of learning is taking place at the colleges and universities it ranks. In contrast, the rankings methodology, however, does care about what percentage of students that a school rejects.

No one knows how many colleges and universities fib when they complete their college rankings surveys. But some pretty big players have been caught falsifying or manipulating numbers to bump themselves up in the standings, including Clemson University, Claremont McKenna College, U.S. Naval Academy, Baylor University and Emory University. Misleading facts not only harm students as they assume the highest ranking colleges are the best and will make them more valuable in the job market, but it puts an even bigger burden on parents who have to pay for their young adult's education.

The biggest factor in the college rankings is a school's reputation and, more specifically, what institutions think of each other. All the schools in a specific category, such as the national university category, are asked to rate all of their peers on a one-to-five scale. For example, administrators at UCLA rate their peers, including such different institutions as Dartmouth, Ball State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, San Diego State and Georgetown. This practice can be considered ludicrous and unfair.

As the job market continues to look grim and, affordability is becoming a major determining factor in whether a not a student will be attending a certain university. Students must now be more conscious of the debt they will accumulate while they are in college and if their specific field of study will guarantee them employment at a fast rate after graduation.

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