Seniors searching for jobs were the biggest winners Friday when they learned Duke placed fourth in the U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of undergraduate institutions, up from eighth last year.
However, despite the jump, this new ranking doesn't indicate too much of a difference in Duke's relative quality, since all the schools ranked between fourth and eighth last year were consolidated into the fourth place this year. As a result, the administration shouldn't be patting themselves on the back too much for this jump in the rankings.
One consequence of this consolidation is that the top-10 schools have basically been broken down into tiers: Princeton, Harvard and Yale obviously make up the first tier of schools, followed by Duke and its peer institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania. Ranking schools into tiers, rather than numerically, is a better way to rank colleges, since it places the emphasis on substantive differences
This sort of system will be of more help to students looking at what school they want to attend since it gives a more accurate indication of a school's quality. Despite the criticism often leveled at these rankings, they are an extremely valuable tool for students to use in order to determine which colleges they should be looking at. While a decision should not be based solely on rankings, they are an important starting point.