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Staff Editorial: New ranking criteria may motivate positive change at WashU

The U.S. News rankings that were published last week listed Washington University at nine spots lower than the previous year, dropping the University from 15th in 2023 to 24th on the 2024 list. Despite what the news may initially look like, the fall in ranking may actually be a step in pushing WashU towards a more diverse student body and a more supportive administration. 

In the past, Student Life has criticized the basis of the U.S News rankings and questioned whether WashU’s high position actually reflected a high-value education. There has long been debate about whether the rankings actually reflect the ability of a college to adequately educate a diverse population of students. 

This year, U.S News tweaked the system a little. They dropped the controversial alumni giving and high-school standing factors and included new factors that weighed the success of first-generation and Pell-eligible students. The rankings also increased focus on university research and minimizing student debt. 

We wish that WashU and its peer universities would care about increasing support for low-income and minority students without the pressure of a public ranking system. We also understand why WashU would be motivated to be ranked highly — everyone wants to be seen as more academic, more prestigious, and more desirable.

This is why we believe that the pressure that U.S. News puts on universities may be positive, especially when the factors reflect values that we believe are actually important in higher education. We commend the increased value placed on the success of Pell-eligible and first-generation college students in the 2024 rankings list, with the knowledge that the new ranking criteria has the potential to directly influence university policies. 

If the shift in values on the U.S News list nudges more universities, including WashU, to increase the number and graduation rate of Pell-eligible students, we believe that to be a positive change. 

It is important to note that the U.S. News rankings take old data into account. A decade ago, WashU was among the least socioeconomically diverse schools in the country. In the past few years, the University has slowly risen to be among the best schools for financial aid, following policies that abolished federal loans in aid packages and made undergraduate admissions a need-blind process. 

The current ranking reflects WashU’s historical lack of financial diversity and will likely change as student demographics shift. While rankings are certainly not everything and have been historically based on problematic measures, Student Life believes that they can create motivation for universities to adapt their policies in order to fit the ranking criteria. 

We hope that WashU will continue to emphasize support for first-generation students and financial diversity, regardless of any fluctuations in its U.S. News ranking. 

Staff editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of our editorial board members. The editorial board operates independently of our newsroom and includes members of the junior and senior staff. 

Cathay Poulsen, Chief of Copy

Via Poolos, Editor-in-Chief

Jordan Spector, Junior Forum Editor

Amelia Raden, Junior Forum Editor

Clara Richards, Editor-in-Chief

Sylvie Richards, Senior Forum Editor

Reilly Brady, Managing Forum Editor

Alice Gottesman, Senior Scene Editor

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