Harvard May Endorse Alternate Rankings

New system would rely on descriptions, not numbers, to rate insitiutions

Harvard is considering providing financial support to a system of evaluating colleges that would rely on descriptions, not numerical rankings, according to Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons ’67.

The group conducting the project, The Education Conservancy, has raised $124,000 for its project to create an online college information system that will serve as an alternative to commercially sponsored rankings.

Yale University and Princeton University have both donated $30,000 to the project, according to Lloyd Thacker, the groups’s executive director.

Additionally, Harvard faculty members have contributed to the group’s efforts.

“While many informed persons mutter about the inequities and wrong-headedness of the current college admissions procedure, almost no one has taken the crucial step from complaint to constructive action,” wrote education professor Howard E. Gardner ’65 in an endorsement posted on the group’s Web site.

“I hope that many schools will join Lloyd Thacker’s efforts to create an admissions process that embodies our core educational values,” he said.

Nonetheless, Fitzsimmons said Harvard does not plan to withdraw from the US News & World Report rankings, which consistently place Harvard within the top few spots.

The annual magazine issue containing the list boasts a readership of about two million, but opposition to the rankings has been growing, with some college presidents declining to provide the necessary information.

“We want to support a variety of different means of information students and parents might have,” Fitzsimmons said. “The kind of information they use is publicly available, and it’s important for us to provide such information.”

Thacker, a former high school guidance counselor, said witnessing the suffering of applicants motivated him to seek an alternative to the existing system.

Thacker’s project aims to provide “robust information and self-diagnostic tools” for students to select colleges.

He wants to create a non-profit mechanism that is “free and open to all”—a project that he said necessitates cooperation with educational leaders.

“Ranking itself implies a degree of authority that is not supplied by its data,” Thacker said. “It distorts the way education is perceived and pursued among students, high school presidents, college admission officers, and trustees.”