UC Merced Economist Studies Impact of College Rankings

MERCED - U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" is eagerly awaited by universities, high school students and their parents each fall. However, one economist at the University of California, Merced, believes those rankings affect more than just where high school seniors decide to apply.

Professor Alex Whalleyhas found universities garner more public funding after debuting in the rankings. Early this summer, he and Ginger Jin of the University of Maryland published their findings in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, "The Power of Attention: Do Rankings Affect the Financial Resources of Public Colleges?"Whalley, who has been at UC Merced since 2006, pored over years of USN&WR's annual rankings and tracked state funding received by public universities after they first appeared in "America's Best Colleges."

"What I found interesting is that even though the colleges received more public money per student after being ranked, that didn't lead to an increase in tuition," Whalley said.

That information is good news for students, who may fear their school's popularity will drive up its sticker price.

"The question we asked ourselves," Whalley said, "is, do college rankings prompt states to spend more on the schools that are covered? And the answer we found is that it does - to the tune of about 3 percent per student."

Whalley's research is of interest to the general public because the amount of money allocated to a school per enrolled student is a key factor in measuring university quality. Whalley believes the reason behind the increased spending per student is that rankings, particularly those published by U.S. News & World Report, draw the attention of the general public to the quality of education in their state, and in turn, drive elected officials to allocate more funding toward higher education.

The 2009 edition of "America's Best Colleges" was posted online Aug. 23 at www.usnews.com/sections/rankings/index.html.

Prof. Whalley is available to speak to media on this topic or others related to higher education and economics. To reach him, call (209) 228-4027 or e-mail awhalley@ucmerced.edu. For information on UC Merced's economics program, visit http://economics.ucmerced.edu/.

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