Columbia University has puzzled the nation as it fell in U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of top universities. The school had been ranked at No. 2 on last year’s list of the best universities in the United States, but has fallen to No. 18 on this year’s list.

Here’s how this happened. 

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Why did it fall?

The Observer reported that Columbia University math professor Michael Thaddeus wrote a report that claimed the statistics used in the ranking of Columbia were inflated and ultimately misrepresented the school’s class size, faculty education and instructional spending.

As a result of the fault on the school’s part, the university was unranked by U.S. News for a time, and the school chose to withdraw from being included in the 2023 ranking.

The criticism of the data caused this year’s report to move Columbia from the No. 2 spot to No. 18, and many are concerned about whether to trust the system used to create the list.

“If any institution can decline from No. 2 to No. 18 in a single year, it just discredits the whole ranking operation,” Thaddeus told The New York Times.

The criticism of the data has made many people begin to have doubts about the ranking system the U.S. News team has put together to rank American schools over the years.

“The broader lesson everyone should keep in mind is that U.S. News has shown its operations are so shoddy that both of (the rankings) are meaningless,” Thaddeus said.

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People are thinking twice about U.S. News

The Guardian reported that U.S. News is now facing nationwide backlash amid the inconsistencies in the data used to rank U.S. colleges. Columbia admitted to overstating the amount of classes the university offers and the number of faculty members that currently holds a degree.

A spokesperson from Columbia said in a statement, “We deeply regret the deficiencies in our prior reporting and are committed to doing better.”

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CBS News reported that in a post on Sunday, U.S. News said, “it relies on schools to accurately report their data,” so they can compile the list as accurately as possible.

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How is the ranking decided?

The ranking is decided by many factors and has been developed over many years.

The method of deciding the rankings has come down to literature reviews of the school, data trends, availability of new data and user feedback of the list, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The standings in this ranking system for universities are important, as they have been used as recruitment tools to convince high school students to attend particular universities over others, according to CBS News.

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