University News

Brown slips two spots in U.S. News rankings

Falling to 16th from 14th, U. attributes drop to 'administrative oversight' in reporting

Features Editor
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Brown slipped from 14th to 16th place overall and plummeted from 12th to 39th place in selectivity in the 2015 edition of the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges rankings, released at midnight Sept. 9.

University officials are attributing these drops to an administrative “oversight” in which one question on the 550-question long survey, which is used by U.S. News to calculate its rankings, was left blank, said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations.

“Our selectivity was miscalculated,” Quinn said late Monday night. University officials from various administrative departments electronically complete the survey distributed by U.S. News each year, providing the ranking organization with important statistics like finances, class size and average SAT score of accepted students.

“This year we neglected to provide an answer to one particular question,” Quinn said of the accident.

But this small mistake may have had big consequences: The oversight, administrators think, caused Brown to drop two slots in the overall ranks and led to a major 27-rank fall in the more specific selectivity category.

This slip in selectivity ranking is not reflective of the reality of Brown’s admission trends, Quinn said. While the drop would seem to indicate that admission to Brown has become less competitive, the trend is the opposite: This year the acceptance rate dropped from 9.2 to 8.6 percent, while SAT scores of admitted students and the fraction of admitted students in the top percentile of their high schools remained relatively stable compared to previous years, she said.

The selectivity ranking — which comprises all those metrics — constitutes 12.5 percent of an institution’s overall ranking on U.S. News’ Best Colleges list.

Brown’s overall score — a numerical value based on “16 indicators of academic excellence,” according to U.S. News’ website — dropped from 87 to 84, “and if you look deeper, many of the elements remained unchanged,” Quinn said, citing high school guidance counselor ranking and peer assessment as evaluative areas that stayed on par with rankings from previous years.

Brown, along with thousands of other institutions across the country, participates in the U.S. News rankings’ survey each year, Quinn said.

“There are a plethora of rankings that are available to students and families when making this important choice,” she said, adding in an email to The Herald that U.S. News is “perhaps one of the better known” lists.

“This is one of many tools that students and families use in determining their college choices,” she said, citing college visits as another way prospective students make judgments about an institution’s fit.

But for students and families who place heavy emphasis on an institution’s official rank, Brown could appear a less selective, and perhaps less attractive, option.

“We certainly want to ensure that for those students and families who use it as a tool in their decision-making, the information is complete and accurate,” Quinn wrote.

University officials have not yet determined where exactly in the survey process the oversight occurred, Quinn said.

“We just got this information today,” she said, noting that University officials will look into what led to the oversight to ensure a mistake like this does not occur again.


  1. Quincy Adams says:

    So fire Quinn then. How stupid.

  2. Luiz F. Valente'83 PhD,Faculty says:

    “Administrative oversight” is inexcusable and doesn’t reflect well on the university.

  3. Brian Sommers '79 says:

    She better resign or get fired. She devalued my diploma with her carelessness. In any other business she’d get axed.

  4. The inability to fill out a survey properly is more than telling of the quality of the administrators at Brown. You can’t explain away lack of attention to detail. Imagine everything else that gets through those offices.

  5. Pathetic, just pathetic. Agree with Sommers ’79. In the private sector, heads would roll for an inexcusable, careless mistake like this. Probably not at Brown, though. After all, it’s only the university’s reputation and prestige that are at stake

  6. More interesting of a question is why are we even participating in this? Why should Brown enter a pissing contest with other schools? What could the university of done instead of wasting time filling out a 550(!) question survey?

    Further, if a question was left unanswered, why wasn’t the university notified ahead of time? We already know that the US News listing is biased and subjective; imagine if the top 25 universities just stopped participating in it.

    • It’s nice imagining things, especially impossible plans that have little chance of buy-in from other (competing) institutions.

      Meanwhile, we can focus on the addressable issue of sub-par administrators that have a tangible impact on the ability of the school to run well, and in turn the quality of the education.

  7. Either don’t participate in survey at all or do it right. No excuses for inadvertant oversight.

  8. disappointing says:

    This is very disappointing. I don’t believe in rankinsgs, Brown is a special place and in a league of its own. But this carelessness and sloppiness hurts the institution and hurts the value of our degree. Liberal education does not need to mean weak, administratrion.

  9. johnlonergan says:

    Yes, focus on the details, not on the overall problem. “Someone forgot to fill out a form.” Could it be that Brown’s intransigence on reform is catching up with its reputation?

    • Nope, it was the form.

      • yesseriously says:

        No. It is Quinn, and her boss Chris Paxson, and all their colleagues.

        • Quinn is a spokeswoman, this can’t be her mistake. It must have happened in the Provost office when the former provost Mark Schlissel was moving out. Mark either intentionally let it slip (for whatever reason), or he just didn’t care. We should be thankful it was not a major screw-up on the university budget (at least we are not aware of yet).

          • Quinn has been in the similar/same position too long, since her presence in Brown, Brown’s ranking has never been improved…
            so she must go. Mark Schlissel apprenetly has used Brown as a SprinBoard to jump to another higher position, because he only stayed at Brown for 2-3 years. Paxson is on our watch list …

          • I would trust Quinn more than Paxson or Colvin in having Brown’s best interest in heart. After seeing how Gordon Gee, Bob Zimmer and Mark Schlissel used us as a quick path to a big paycheck, I’m extremely skeptical of Paxson and Colvin. My hope is that if they don’t do a major screw-up, we should be satisfied.

          • Provost watch says:

            Vicki Leigh Colvin GRADUATED FROM Univesity of California – Berkely, and Mark Schlissed has been in Univesity of California – Berkely as a bioScice dean, I don’t know who recommed Colvin, i would rather believe there is no direct relation in between. But i agree, Colvin is in our watch list as well.

  10. Someone must step down.

    • Frank Furter says:

      Brown is having a hissy fit, at the bottom of the Ivy Barrel now and not likely to rise any time soon…too provincial? A well meaning school lost in Providence with a history of slave money and hippy daze thinking. Somebody, break the bubble?

  11. Brown is now the lowest ranked ivy.

  12. let’s face it, Brown is in Providence, Rhode Island, a tiny state with very bad economic shape currently, where is the resource?? the ranking will drop sooner or later, because other schools are advancing quickly, now it is the lowest among Ivy. Look at Cornell, it has opened cornell tech campus in New York city recently, Dartmuth and UPenn has strong presence in Finance area, UPenn even has very good med school, then how about Brown? You can’t simply rely on open curriculum to maintain its prestige and reputation, world has changed, Brown must think a way to concentate on a few areas to be the best in the world, maybe shrink/re-structure open curriculum, no more live in eutopia, a research university is research university, school must demonstrate how strong its research is. Never think it is a small liberal art college, otherwise, the ranking will fall even further in the future.

    • not such great advice says:

      While it is important for Brown to invest in advancing the quality of education provided to its students, that doesn’t mean we need to put the open curriculum on the chopping block. It’s one of Brown’s key differentiators.

    • Cornell is in a declining rustbelt city and Dartmouth’s in the middle of nowhere. What’s your point?

      • Cornell now has a strong presence in New York – its medical school and tech campus (recently opened) are in New York city, and you say New York city is in a rustbelt ??? In addition, Look at Cornell recent years’ endowment, they do have big improvement.

  13. Another self-inflicted wound that has diminished my alma mater’s reputation and the value of my degree. The Adam Lack (1997) and E. Gordon Gee (2000) affairs both attracted national ridicule. The website design ca. 2004-2010 was an amateurish disgrace with worldwide significance. The University’s wikipedia entry until very recently was a convoluted mess. Why do these blunders happen?

    With this US News debacle, what is the strategy for damage control? Can the Herald follow-up this story with an article about the University’s next move(s)? Perhaps Brown should outsource PR and branding to Madison Avenue.

    This year’s rankings have been by now picked up and referenced by media outlets throughout the world. Our 16th rank in 2014 will live on forever in Wikipedia entries, news reports, consumer reports, and blog entries.

    • Johann Fenster says:


  14. If this drop in ranking is truly the result of a clerical error, then let’s hope Brown does an immediate active PR blitz to correct that error in the public mind before there is ANY impact on the value of the diploma or the quality of future applicant pools. How can a school with an 8.6 acceptance rate be ranked 39th in selectivity?

  15. Brown Freshman says:

    Is there any way to correct this–ASAP? Sounds like freshman level carelessness made at the highest level.

  16. This is a travesty. Brown made a foolish mistake. But so did US News in reporting a ranking with an obvious omission. What is Brown doing to fix this?

  17. Brown needs to pour resources into its strengths: (1) PLME program (2) Economics (3) Neuroscience (4) Computer Science and (5) Creative Writing

    PLME: Attracts the best candidates in the nation
    — Instead of growing the PLME, we have cut the spots; big mistake!
    — We were #1 in Primary Care in US News in 1990 and instead of focusing the medical school on primary care we tried to compete in every area and have now dropped our ranking to #34.

    Economics: President of the World Bank, Fed Chair, US Secretary of Labor: All Brown Alumni
    — Instead of posting full page ads in the NY Times congratulating these distinguished alum we have ignored these incredible achievements
    — We should spend 20 million dollars of the endowment to recruit the best econ professors in the nation and use this amazing time in our history as a springboard

    Neuroscience: We have one of the best departments in the world
    — Let’s recruit the best professors in neuroscience from other areas and create a department second to none

    Computer Science: John Scully and Thomas Watson: CEOs of Apple and IBM: Brown Alum
    — Let’s reignite our computer sciences department to its former glory by recruiting the best from other universities

    Creative Writing: Drama. We have had multiple Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights
    — Increase funding for play writing and advertise our world class programs

    • I absolutely agree with all of your suggestions. But they don’t address the immediate issue: that somehow, someone in an administrative role made a clerical error that will tarnish Brown’s ranking and standing, for what those statistics are worth to admissions and development, for the next year and beyond. So what can Brown do to address this foolish error today?

      • Some high ranking admistrative officers need to pay the price – step down…

        • He already did. The ex-provost has left the campus. The lesson here is that in the future, the top administrators, president, provost, deans, need to have a Brown degree to their resume – so they will care about Brown’s reputation as much as our alums do.

    • As a former PLME, I find this comment somewhat ironic. For four years of Brown college, I remember poignantly the smouldering resentment from pre-meds and colleagues alike. I felt their innuendos that somehow PLMEs were inherently lazy, and slackers. As though we just took all our courses S/NC. That we were somehow not up to par with our premeds peers. They felt that it was somehow okay to mistreat us. Sometimes this culminated into very public displays of verbal hostility in the Ratty or V-Dub.

      What does it say about Brown’s culture that this is considered okay? That the very people valued as the “Best candidates in the nation” are also worthy of hatred?

      Don’t believe me? The BDH published an editorial by a Mr. Fitzpatrick ’12 (link below) that feels it is justified to mistreat PLMEs and breach contract with them because “we should all be reminded that life is never fair. If they didn’t
      realize that by now, they certainly would have figured it out by the end
      of medical school.” … it’s okay to do wrong to PLMEs to teach them “life is unfair?” even though we are listed above as one of Brown’s assets? we are the “best candidates in the nation?” Interestingly, we are listed #1 on this list… (hmmm)…

      Perhaps Brown is slipping in rankings because of this culture?

      • Some PLMEs still manage to gradute with Magum Cue Laude, it depends on individule. I think just very few PLME become lazy or slack. Other pre-meds’ resentment is one thing, PLMEs students overall quality is another thing, as long as PLMEs residency match results are excellent, then it still is the “Best candidates in the nation”. Medical school faculty should treat PLME students equally with non-PLMEs.

      • Ask the nurses at RIH to pick out the residents who were PLEMEs as undergrads. They can always tell.

        Until they can’t anymore, PLEME will continue to have that reputation.

        • How can the hospital or med school continue to let this happen??? Administratives must do something…

        • Really? When were you here?

          I’m a current med student — I’ve seen nothing to support this statement.

        • Let’s change “nurses” –> police officers; “residents” –> people; PLMEs –> African Americans

          “Ask the ‘police officers’ at RI to pick out the ‘people’ who were ‘African Americans’. They can always tell.

          Until they can’t anymore, ‘African Americans’ will continue to have that reputation.”
          Anyone who said such a thing would be fired or arrested. I bring this up b/c many PLMES are in fact minorities… Brown after all uses PLME to improve its diversity.

    • Random says:

      Most of the people in medical field, when see med school ranking, they tend to see “Research” ranking, they pay less attention to “Primary Care” ranking.

      There are a good number of med schools’ BS/MD programs are shrinking, there must have reasons behind it. PLME is a good program, but how big the program should be, is up to med school faculty, med students and admistrative officers’ judgement. As long as Brown med graduates have execellent residency match results, i don’t see there is any problem in running PLME in our med school. Unless PLME students have bad match results after they graduate,then the program itself needs to change its requirements during the UG school year to make the the students more competitive.

      • Most of the combined programs you’re probably referring to were formed years ago in a bygone era when top students were not applying into medical school. In the pre 2000 era, bright students were gunning for computer science and engineering careers. Medical school was nowhere near as competitive. These combined programs existed to encourage more interest in medicine and in some cases primary care.

        So they are shrinking, but it is because these programs are essentially relics we’ve inherited. Not everyone always wanted to go to medical school the way they do now.

    • We must demonstrate we are the best in the world in some areas, a school can not always emphasize on undergraduate program, and keep producing top feeder to other schools for their med, law, business, computer or other programs, and still claim we are the best. And this is why our endowment is smallest amony Ivies, caus all graduates have two diplomas, one Brown, one other top schools’ professional/graduate school, tell me how will they donate their money to their alma mater, split into half half or …

  18. We can decry these rankings as meaningless… and yes we all know the rankings are not perfect.

    We can dismiss them as biased, unfair, malicious, part of the slings and throes of outrageous fortune, and perhaps they even cause global warming. We can blame everything on a clerical error.

    But at some point, can’t we look at ourselves and the university and do an honest critique? Not, of course, out of spite, but out of candor. And self-improvement. And because not a single one of us want to see our alma mater be derided publicly as a ‘diploma mill’ as some public universities have been labelled.

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