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BU’s low ‘desirability’ rating outdated, officials say

Boston University was ranked in the bottom 20 percent of schools surveyed on the basis of desirability, according to a new study. However, the study is dependent on old data and may not be representative of BU’s current reputation, said co-author and Harvard University professor Christopher Avery.

“We ranked colleges in this study solely on the basis of choices by students who were admitted to multiple colleges,” he said. “We rank colleges based on the preferences indicated by students, with more preferred colleges getting higher rankings.”

BU was ranked 90th out of 110 schools surveyed in desirability, according to the study released in the February issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics. This position is almost 40 places lower than its U.S. News and World Report ranking of 51.

The results were based entirely on student interpretation and opinion, Avery said.

About 5,100 high school seniors were surveyed and were hand-selected by guidance counselors at their schools, according to the study. Students’ responses on where they wanted to enroll for college determined the schools’ rankings in the study.

“This means that for our sample of high school graduating seniors we had information on the schools that accepted the students, and the school that the student selected from among those choices,” said Mark Glickman, BU School of Public Health professor and co-author of the study in an email.

Glickman said the analysis has limitations because it was based on data collected from 2004 high school graduates.

“The actual rankings may be out of date and not exactly relevant to 2013,” he said. “Also, the rankings have some uncertainty connected to them because they are based on a limited sample of comparisons.”

Avery said BU’s desirability ranking would most likely increase if the data were made current.

“Many colleges, including BU, have changed in selectivity since then,” he said. “The rankings would probably be considerably [higher] today if we had data and could use the same methods for more recent student enrollment.”

BU spokesman Colin Riley said the study’s results might be flawed based on how the researchers decided what is desirable.

“The validity of any ranking depends on the methodologies and values ascribed by the individuals [who] do the ranking,” Riley said. “They are the ones who determine the weight of a particular variable and that is always a debatable point.”

A number of BU students said they do not believe this ranking is worth consideration.

College of Arts and Sciences freshman Sarah Blackwell said desirability is an unspecific term and undermines the value of the rankings.

“How do you even determine what desirability is?” she said. “It’s subjective. I would think it would be more desirable because we were ranked seventh in employability [among colleges in the U.S. according to an October survey published by The New York Times].”

Alex Michel, a CAS senior, said she did not consider rankings strongly when deciding to attend BU.

“BU has such a good reputation because of its ranking,” she said. “In my case, I thought less about the rankings since BU was so well known already.”

Adam Bloch, a School of Management senior, said published rankings influenced his choice to attend BU when he was in high school.

“I didn’t get a chance to visit that many different colleges before applying so rankings were the easiest way for me to compare academic programs,” he said. “I do think you need to look at a bunch of different factors though, in order to make the right decision for yourself.”

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