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UC Merced Economist Studies Impact of College Rankings

August 25, 2008

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 Whalley
has 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
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

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
For information on UC Merced’s economics program, visit