The U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) released their graduate program rankings for 2021, including “Best Sociology Programs,” this week. USNWR releases these rankings roughly every 3–4 years. Each time a new edition of the rankings comes out, there is quite a bit of chatter among academics.
One key topic — and rightfully so — always seems to be the methodology. “How appropriate is the five-point scale?” “What was the response rate this year?” “I wonder who chose to respond?” “Why didn’t X department move up after hiring scholars Y and Z?!”
The USNWR collected new data in the second half of 2020 and early 2021. They did not average the results with a prior year like they did nearly a decade ago. They sent surveys to 117 sociology departments, with a response rate of 46%.
We have less clarity on some of the other issues. I do not know who responded, although I would assume most of the responses came from the top half of programs. Moreover, I cannot tell you why X department did not move up after hiring scholars Y and Z. Maybe there is more lag time than you think. Maybe scholars Y and Z are not as good as you think. Maybe people just hate X department. Who knows?
Of course, it is natural to worry about these rankings. We cannot help but place importance on the shiny new numbers, even if we know the system has flaws.
In past years, sociologists have discussed and critiqued these rankings on orgtheory and scatterplot. Orgtheory even crowdsourced their own version of departmental rankings. Spoiler alert: there were few large differences compared to the USNWR rankings.
These rankings will generate a new round of discussion on those orgtheory, scatterplot, various message boards, and social media. Thus, I thought it would be a great time to shout my thoughts into the void.
What Has Changed Since 2017?
The U.S News and World Report last released new graduate program rankings in 2017. So maybe it makes sense to examine changes in the top 50 departments since then.