A Boston College expert in educational measurement is taking a look at the controversial college and university rankings lists that are promoted by schools hoping to lure full-fare students from out of state and parents and students who want validation for their choices.

 The rankings industry is a big business for organizations such as U.S. News&World Report and Princeton Review. Even the federal government is going to start picking winners and losers from among schools now, they are moving toward their own ranking system for colleges and universities. Despite criticism, all this has led to rankings exerting a larger influence on college choice trends, prior analyses have concluded. 

"Are rankings doing more harm than good or more good than harm?" asked Lynch School of Education Professor Henry Braun, part of a panel focused on rankings last week at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting. "There is an appetite among parents and students for rankings because they believe that rankings can help them make good choices," said Braun, the Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy. "University officials are less enthusiastic and offer many criticisms. This is a subject that deserves more scholarly attention, rather than just bashing rankings outright."

Braun, the director of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy, said higher education experts are staking out a research agenda to better understand rankings methodologies, how consumers use them and whether institutions can put them to better use.

Last fall, Braun and George Washington University Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development Michael Feuer hosted an AERA-sponsored conference for professors, administrators, and rankings providers to discuss a research agenda focused on rankings and their influence on both consumers and institutions. Today's panel expands on that discussion.