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Michael Bastedo’s research cited in NYT investigation into what college admissions offices really want

September 12, 2019

Professor Michael Bastedo’s research regarding the influence of college rankings on admissions was cited in The New York Times article “What College Admissions Offices Really Want.”


Author and journalist Paul Tough describes the complex web of factors that institutions consider in their admissions decisions. Using the example of Trinity College, a small liberal-arts institution, he demonstrates the financial pressures on colleges that act in opposition to goals to diversify the student body. In the article, Tough wrote “In public, university leaders like to advertise the diversity of their freshman classes and their institutions’ generosity with financial aid. In private, they feel immense pressure to maintain tuition revenue and protect their school’s elite status. The public and private are inevitably in conflict, and the place on each campus where that conflict plays out is the admissions office.”

Because tuition revenue is dependent on college rankings, Tough cites the research of Michael Bastedo and Nicholas Bowman (SOE alumnus and current faculty member at The University of Iowa). “The researchers Nicholas A. Bowman and Michael N. Bastedo showed in a 2008 paper that when colleges take steps to become more racially or socioeconomically diverse, applications tend to go down in future years.”

In their 2008 paper “Getting on the Front Page: Organizational Reputation, Status Signals, and the Impact of U.S. News and World Report on Student Decisions,” Bastedo and Bowman used admissions data from top-tier universities to show that moving toward the top of the U.S. News rankings causes a boost in admissions indicators for all institutions. They further demonstrated that moving up or down within the top tier has a strong impact on institutions ranked in the top 25, especially among national universities. In contrast, the admissions outcomes of liberal arts colleges—particularly those in the lower half of the top tier—were more strongly influenced by institutional prices.

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Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies; Professor, Marsal Family School of Education