Elizabeth Keserauskis

Building relationships and making connections

Forbes College Ranking: True Gauge or Sketchy Data?

Forbes recently released their annual rankings of colleges. The rankings were calculated in partnership with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. My institution was conspicuously absent, and I was asked to investigate why. (The responsibility for responding to external credibility surveys lies within my unit.) What I have subsequently found is that the rankings are based on existing, publicly available data (IE no surveys were sent to each institution requesting data, information.) Which in and of itself would not trouble me, except that the data points used, to me and others, are questionable at best. Additionally, information like the infamous “other cost” category institutions report as an allowable cost at the discretion of the student to cover expenses like mileage to clinicals, internships, etc. in their financial aid package, are treated as actual billed charges, therefore increasing the “cost of attendance” and subsequently this elusive “net price” calculation and the debt load calculation (predicted, I might add).

I have several excerpts from articles, blog posts, and even their own methodology posted below giving a glimpse of the, in my humble opinion, “sketchiness” of this ranking. I can only hope that Joe and Jane Sixpack are able to sort through the variables…oh wait, they likely can’t. So now we have another “think tank” with a clear agenda (political or otherwise) leveraging a brand like Forbes to advance their cause.

How important are rankings like this and U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges? Only the audiences we are trying to attract will tell. And believe me, I intend to ask them just that, so we can tailor our approach accordingly to these surveys.

Compiling the Forbes /CCAP Rankings (excerpt from the methodology document, full document can be found on their site)

By the Staff of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity

 Ranking Factors and Weights

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), in conjunction with Forbes , compiled its college rankings using five general categories, with several components within each general category. The weightings are listed in parentheses:

1. Student Satisfaction (27.5%)

  • Student Evaluations from RateMyProfessor.com (17.5%)
  • Actual Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention Rates (5%)
  • Predicted vs. Actual Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention Rates (5%)

2. Post-Graduate Success (30%)

  • Listings of Alumni in Who’s Who in America (10%)
  • Salary of Alumni from Payscale.com (15%)
  • Alumni in Forbes/CCAP Corporate Officers List (5%)

3. Student Debt (17.5%)

  • Average Federal Student Loan Debt Load (10%)
  • Student Loan Default Rates (5%)
  • Predicted vs. Actual Percent of Students Taking Federal Loans (2.5%)

4. Four-year Graduation Rate (17.5%)

  • Actual Four-year Graduation Rate (8.75%)
  • Predicted vs. Actual Four-year Graduation Rate(8.75%)

5. Competitive Awards (7.5%)

  • Student Nationally Competitive Awards (7.5%)

School Selection

The 650 institutions of higher education in this ranking are schools which award undergraduate degrees or certificates requiring ―4 or more years‖ of study, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and only those schools categorized by The Carnegie Foundation as Doctorate-granting Universities, Master‘s Colleges and Universities, or Baccalaureate Colleges are included in this sample of schools.

Of the 650 schools included in the sample, 608 wereincluded in the 2010 college ranking. (A total of 610 schools were ranked in 2010, but two of them, Bryant University and Missouri University of Science and Technology are now classified as ―Special Focus‖ institutions by the Carnegie Foundation). We have accounted for any name changes that have occurred over the past year. The 42 schools added this year to the sample are all institutions classified by the Carnegie Foundation as Doctoral/Research Universities and were added based upon undergraduate enrollment size.

A Little History of the Forbes Rankings from 2008-present, excerpt from a commentary on methodology (full commentary can be found at: http://bestcollegerankings.org/popular-rankings/forbes-college-rankings/)

2008 marked the first year that Forbes entered the college ranking fray. They choose to use a methodology that included the following percentages: Listing of Alumni in the 2008 Who’s Who in America (25 percent); student evaluations of professors from Ratemyprofessors.com (25 percent); four-year graduation rates (16 2/3 percent); enrollment-adjusted numbers of students and faculty receiving nationally competitive awards (16 2/3 percent); average four year accumulated student debt of those borrowing money (16 2/3 percent). They did not break colleges down into different schools as U.S. News does, but instead choose to separate private and public colleges instead.

Methodology: In conjunction with Dr. Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), Forbes inaugurated its first ranking of America’s Best Colleges in 2008. They based 25 percent of their rankings on seven million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site RateMyProfessors.com. Another 25 percent depended upon how many of the school’s alumni, adjusted for enrollment, are listed among the notable people in Who’s Who in America. The other half of the ranking was based equally on three factors: the average amount of student debt at graduation held by those who borrowed; the percentage of students graduating in four years; and the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes. CCAP ranked only the top 15 percent or so of all undergraduate institutions.

Negative Commentary on the Methodology (Excerpt from Suite101.com: The Forbes Best College Rankings 2011: Are They Kidding?

What Goes in Must Come Out

First of all, a quick review of the Forbes methodology. It is the goal of the rankings to evaluate college as a consumer or investor would evaluate a commercial product. The focus is on the return on investment–for what you pay, do you get a good “value”? The most important element in assessing this value is “Post-Graduate Success,” accounting for 30 percent of the total.

This “success” is measured by the salaries of graduates as reported by Payscale.com; membership in “Who’s Who”; and by alumni representation on a list of corporate officers chosen by Forbes and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP). CEOs and board members of leading companies are the only persons who are eligible, thereby narrowing the definition of “success” to achievement in the business world only.

It is interesting that Forbes would allow use of “Who’s Who” listings as a measure of college success. In a 1999 article for the magazine called “The Hall of Lame,” Tucker Carlson, a Fox News commentator, derisively showed how inclusion in Who’s Who publications did not require notable achievement.

Another 17.5 percent of the total is based on student evaluations of instructors, taken from the website Ratemyprofessors.com. While student evaluations are useful, they can also lead professors to emphasize popularity at the expense of scholastic rigor.

An additional 17.5 percent of the total comes from actual and anticipated four-year graduation rates. Using four-year rates rather than six-year rates clearly favors colleges that are wealthy enough to subsidize virtually all eligible students based on need or merit, or whose student body is made up of highly-prepared students with sufficient economic support. State universities, whose students often have to work part-time or even take a semester off from school, usually cannot match the four-year graduation rates of private colleges.

Likewise, the rankings penalize colleges whose students have higher student debt loads, and this also slants the rankings toward wealthy colleges and parents.

Academic Reputation—Forget It

The most glaring deficiency of the Forbes survey is that the only standard it uses to assess the intellectual credibility of a college is the data from Ratemyprofessor.com. Academic reputation and faculty achievement count for nothing, even though a recent UCLA study of more than 200,000 freshman across the country revealed that undergraduate academic reputation was the most important factor for these students when they were choosing a college. Forbes wants to change that perception, but does the magazine really believe that reputation counts for nothing in the business world as well?

It is ironic that a survey that is supposed to be student-centered disregards the one factor that students themselves cite as being most important to them: quality. Interestingly, the UCLA study also showed that prospective students are learning to be guarded in their use of college rankings, a healthy sign indeed.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | higher education, marketing, reputation management | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Implications for Your Job Search: 7 Years on File

All Facebook: the unofficial Facebook resource, posted an article recently (ALERT: Job Screening Agency Archiving All Facebook) about Social Intelligence Corp, which offers a background checking/screening service for employers. From their article:

The FTC decided Social Intelligence complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the same set of rules that keeps your bill-payment records on file with the consumer bureaus for seven years, according to Forbes.


That means your antics documented, photographed, posted and tagged on Facebook will be available to your prospective and current employers for 7 years. I have heard comments from folks saying that isn’t it about time we stopped trying to pretend like people we really aren’t in order to get a job? Sure that would be the perfect world. But do you really want to be the trailblazer to set that trend? If so, your job options will be severely limited–best of luck with that.

So if you haven’t already appropriately adjusted your privacy settings and stopped posting the ridiculous and embarrassing photos and status updates, now is the perfect time. Get your head out of the sand! Seems to me given this development and the recent facial recognition technology addition, folks better start thinking more seriously about their online reputation (especially kids getting ready to enter the workforce in the next 7 years.)

June 22, 2011 Posted by | reputation management, social media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facial Recognition Technology = Creepy

I think I agree the title of the  PC World article: Why Facebook’s Facial Recognition Technology is Creepy. The more photos people tag of you or you load and tag yourself, the better the facial recognition technology gets at recognizing you in photos and making suggestions for folks to tag you. How is this not creepy?? It’s starting with Facebook, but will soon be everywhere. Those photos you thought were innocent of you doing keg stands in college? Even if you’ve untagged yourself, it is still findable online and attributed. And don’t say that you can “opt out” of the service…that just means people cannot automatically tag you. But that isn’t stopping the technology from gathering data and refining the ability to recognize your photo.

In addition to my own privacy, my biggest concern is kids/teenagers/college students who already think they are invincible online, and don’t think the first time (let alone twice) about posting compromising, silly photos of themselves on Facebook and other sites. I spend a lot of time with college students talking to them about how to manage their reputation online and to start thinking very early about what their image is online BEFORE they have to start looking for jobs. This will certainly be a part of my presentation from this point forward, but I am only hitting a small number of kids.

I love the suggestion she has in the article–opt out of the service immediately, and start randomly uploading pictures of inanimate objects and tagging them as yourself to keep Facebook guessing what you really look like!

June 15, 2011 Posted by | reputation management, social media | , , , | 1 Comment

The State of Today’s Graduate Seeking Work in Communications

I attended a speed networking event pairing current students (most of whom are about to graduate) with alumni working in various fields last night. The idea is based on the “speed dating” concept, but in this situation alumni are stationed at tables and students rotate among them for 15 minute networking sessions. The concept is fantastic, and I am so glad I participated and could provide perspective to students entering the workforce.

What concerns me after the event is the state of preparedness of the students about to enter the workforce, particularly in communications fields. They don’t have experience beyond their internships, and are about to compete with folks who have much more experience for the same jobs in our economy. Internships are almost critical for students these days. Many of them realize they will likely have to take full-time internships with companies (many without benefits) in order to get their foot in the door.

But the problem doesn’t stop at their lack of tangible experience. To me it is more worrisome that they have not been required to hone their writing skills. Many have not had to compose extensive persuasive papers in their last year of two in school. I have yet to find one who understands just how drastically the internet has changed the strategic communications field. Most of them believe they are going to find a job in “PR”. Well, it’s not just PR anymore. You have to have the understanding of how to help a company establish and manage a reputation, among all their audiences and across all media. It is not just traditional media releases and pitching. Most of them don’t understand the direct-to-consumer conversation potential with the internet. Many of them look at me with blank stares when I ask them if they understand the basics of SEO & SEM.

The best I can hope for is that the sites where these students are doing their internships give them several sips from the fire hose and give them a chance to realize what they haven’t learned yet. Then the most motivated will make it a priority to teach themselves what they can. And in the meantime, I am dreading the day when I have to hire an entry level communications position. I certainly will have to manage my own expectations!

March 30, 2011 Posted by | communication, higher education, reputation management | , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaking of LinkedIn…

Since my last post was about LinkedIn, I thought I would share the groups to which I belong on LinkedIn. I have only included the marketing groups I find useful.

MarketingProfs– Group Profile: MarketingProfs is a community of marketers centered around smart, quick, and actionable know-how and discussion. More than 360,000 subscribers read our newsletters and blog, attend our events and seminars (both live and virtual), and participate in the MP discussion forum. (interesting note: their group profile page has a spelling error! A result of fast fingers on the keyboard I suspect. I did not repeat the mistake here.)

Inbound Marketers– Group Profile: Online group for marketing professionals. A community those looking to reach their best customers online through techniques like inbound marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. I do feel that it tends to be an engine to drive traffic to their seminars, but you can often find interesting conversations and smart people to follow here.

Southern Illinois Marketing & Communications– Group Profile: When you leave the large market, marketing and communications professionals begin to wear more hats in their career. The group is dedicated to those marketing, PR and Communications professionals who are juggling all three expertises (if not more). Since I happen to be located in Southern IL, I like this group to connect with other folks located or doing business in the area. It’s nice to stay abreast of issues specifically occurring in your region.

Are we connected yet? My profile: linkedin.com/in/bethkeserauskis

Any other groups we should know about? What do you learn from them?

October 28, 2010 Posted by | connecting, relationships, reputation management | , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Easy to Ruin Your Credibility on LinkedIn

One wrong tap on the keyboard, one too-fast click on the mouse–that’s all it takes to put a serious dent in your credibility on LinkedIn. Two times in the last week I saw group postings come through LinkedIn groups with substantial misspellings in the headline. And it’s not like they spelled the championship-winning word for the 2010 Spelling Bee wrong.

“Business Journal rolls out redisigned site”

This was my favorite so far. How well is this positioning the person as a credible source for the business journal? How professional is it making the publication itself look? (Note: the individual posting is an official representative of the publication.)

I can’t find the other one…they must have realized the error and fixed it. Are my standards too high? Is it too difficult to proofread your own material? If you are an admittedly bad speller, have someone proofread your work. Or, if you are posting on a site that doesn’t have a spell checker built in, write your content in MS Word FIRST, then paste into the site.

I have misspelled words before. But it usually is a result of working too fast or trying to do too many things at one time. To me, misspellings in the group situation on LinkedIn is saying that you don’t care enough about my time or interest to spell check your work or go through the same process to ensure accuracy as you would on a direct mail piece. Just because the medium of social media/networking is easy, convenient and lightning fast doesn’t mean that my time online is not as valuable as with more traditional media.

I truly do want to know if my standards are too high. Yes, I can claim several spelling bee championship titles and I realize my standards for myself are much higher than others. But I still stick by my statement that your audience’s time is precious and you should treat it as such by not only posting things that are relevant, but making sure you have checked your work!

October 25, 2010 Posted by | marketing, reputation management, social media | , , , , | 1 Comment

Would You Like to be Given a D+?

Drake D+ CampaignIs Drake University’s new ad campaign a bust, or successfully getting everyone talking about the school and its benefits to prospective students? It has been the center of significant attention on the web, including just a few I ran across recently:

If their marketing team’s purpose was to create something viral that everyone would talk about, mission accomplished. However, the fact that people are referring to the education you can get at Drake as a “D+” grade is probably not the image they were hoping for.

I also found it interesting that the marketing team did not even include their own staff and faculty in the testing of the new campaign. Your internal audience does not necessarily have to approve everything you do, but you can certainly create a sense of ownership and buy in if you involve them in the process where appropriate. By not including them, the marketing team had to backpedal and be on the defensive, explaining what the ad campaign was about in an internal email that of course someone posted online.

And what does this mean to the reputation of their advertising partner in the process, Stamats? Are they now branded as an agency that can create edgy advertising campaigns, or a team that didn’t include all stakeholders in the testing process or notice that ramifications of a “D+ Grade”?

In today’s communications climate, everyone is searching for the story or idea or campaign that is going to get everyone talking about their product/service/school. Was Drake successful? What do you think?

September 5, 2010 Posted by | engaging, higher education, marketing, reputation management | , , , , | Leave a comment

College Rankings: Popularity Contest or External Credibility?

Last week was what many in higher education considered a stressful week. The U.S.News and World Report rankings were released to the schools on Monday (8/16), with a press embargo until 12:00 midnight Eastern time Tuesday. So most college communications teams spent the day either breathing a sigh of relief and sending the release that they achieved a good rank, or frantically scrambling to craft the message drawing attention away from the fact that they slipped in the rankings.

In addition to the usual stress, U.S. News made significant changes to the methodology and presentation of the rankings this year. Full details can be found on their blog, but in summary they:

  • changed the category names
  • listed all schools, not just the top tier
  • increased the weight of the graduation rate
  • included the opinion of high school counselors in the calculation

There has always been a question about whether rankings like these and countless others are just a popularity contest, or rather a valid external assessment of college choices for prospective students and their parents. The subjective opinions of peers, and now this year high school counselors, factor into the rankings. The chief admissions officers, provosts and presidents of all colleges and universities have the opportunity to provide their opinion of the institutions in their geographic region. This peer assessment variable accounts for 25% of the total score–the most heavily weighted variable. If we are trying to assess outcomes of an institution, why aren’t the managers at companies hiring the graduates asked?

You could argue that this skews the rankings, as surely an institution can influence those opinions through a variety of communication channels timed with the survey response due date. Or, you can view this an opportunity to educate your peers on the accomplishments and accolades your institution has recently achieved, and create a communication strategy for this target audience.

Have you ever noticed how the underdogs who make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament manage to place high in the rankings? (Think Butler, Northern Iowa this year.) And how the tournament is right around the time that the survey is completed? Coincidence? Or is that there is increased visibility and communication about those schools while they are featured on TV?

Assessment is always a big topic at universities. To me, this is one more way to assess success. There are qualitative and quantitive, objective and subjective, ways to measure nearly everything.

Additionally, when you increase factors like graduation rate, your overall score increases. So, in theory, would your rank.

Regardless of what side of the fence you fall on, there is something to be said from a marketing perspective about credibility through external validation. Several of the categories, like Up and Comers and Focus of Student Success, are great to use in a communication strategy highlighting recent innovations you have added to your institution.

There are also those schools that do not appear on the rankings who try and use that to their advantage. I have seen taglines such as “awards won’t change the world, but our graduates will” on billboards.

Has anyone asked whether prospective students and parents are using these rankings in their decision making process? If you appear favorably in the rankings, are you calling attention to it and asking your prospective students and parents to pay attention?

An article appeared in the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education in 2008, titled De-Mystifying the U.S. News Rankings: How to Understand What Matters, What Doesn’t and What You can Actually Do About It. I highly recommend reading this article.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | higher education, marketing, public relations, reputation management | , , , , | Leave a comment

How *NOT* to Ruin Your Reputation Online

I work with the student athletes here on campus to improve their skills in working with the media, but also to help them develop their reputation online. Or more immediately- how not to ruin their reputation online. I am always looking for articles, stories and examples of how social media can negatively impact a career, education or reputation to pass on to them. These are the most recent ones I have added to the list.

Do you have any articles that would be good for me to share with our students?

August 18, 2010 Posted by | higher education, reputation management, resources, social media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of Doing the Right Thing

I know, it sounds like a lesson you learned in kindergarten. Unfortunately, many companies still don’t understand it though.

I’ve had several conversations lately about the PR implications of negative actions taken or substantial errors made by companies or employees. And inevitably, there is always a suggestion that we figure out how to “cover this up”. I shake my head, and my response is typically the same: has anyone thought about perhaps admitting an error, issuing a heartfelt apology, and outlining the steps you are taking to fix the problem and safeguard against repeating history?

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Wouldn’t you find it easier to forgive a company for a wrongdoing if they apologized and fixed it, versus tried to cover it up? How about Toyota’s recent mechanical problems–they were slow to speak in the public and apologize, but once they did, it focused the conversation away from trying to catch them to talking about how the problem is going to be fixed.

Yes, there will be a time when their brand will suffer. However, they have worked very hard in the past to build relationships with their customers, to the tune of significant brand loyalty. It will take some time, but it will be easier for them to rebuild trust than if they had not built that relationship foundation.

Sorry for the brand loyalty digression, but the message is the same. If you do the right thing to fulfill your mission and satisfy your customers, handling times of crisis becomes so much easier. So when we ask ourselves what we are going to do about a particular situation, the answer to me is easy: what is the right thing to do for our employees, our customers, and our other publics?

June 12, 2010 Posted by | leadership, public relations, relationships, reputation management | , , , , | Leave a comment