ECU’s College Guide and Ranking Publication Working Group

In 2015, faculty and staff from across ECU’s campus were convened to form a College Guide and Ranking Publication Working Group. A working group devoted to college rankings and ratings was deemed important for several reasons, including the following:

  • Although the importance/validity of college rankings is debated, they still capture the interest of university stakeholders.
  • Colleges/departments increasingly receive notice of discipline-related rankings.
  • There has been a proliferation in recent years of ranking/rating websites, many of which are of dubious quality and/or owned by companies specializing in “student acquisition.”

Membership includes representatives from IPAR, Enrollment Services, News Services, Creative Services (Marketing), the Graduate School, Continuing/Distance Education, Student Affairs, and several colleges. The goals and objectives of this group are as follows:

  1. Review college guide/ranking publications to determine ECU participation or non-participation.
  2. Articulate IPAR’s and units’ responsibilities in completing discipline-specific guide/ranking surveys.
  3. Ensure that ECU’s process and procedures for college guide/ranking publication survey participation are clear, consistent, and current.
  4. Outline a communications plan for publicizing ECU’s rankings/ratings.
  5. Identify areas that could negatively impact ECU’s rankings/ratings and provide recommendations to administration.
Is this ranking legitimate?
At ECU, as at many universities, faculty and academic administrators often receive e-mails announcing new rankings for their academic programs. When these e-mails come from relatively unknown organizations, it can be challenging to determine if the ranking is valid and trustworthy. Only faculty and administrators familiar with an academic program can judge whether a particular ranking makes sense; however, before using a ranking as a “bragging point,” its origin and methodology should be examined. To that end, ECU’s College Guide and Ranking Publication Working Group created a template by which ranking websites and organizations can be evaluated. The template guides the evaluator through a series of questions to determine if a ranking is reputable, accurate, and meaningful.

Initially, the working group met approximately every six weeks. Below is a list of some of the early accomplishments of the group.

  • Determined criteria by which to evaluate surveys for ECU participation: Influence & Reach, Cost & Resources, Mission & History, Marketing & Leverage.
  • Created an ECU Rankings Philosophy (see below).
  • Created a template by which ranking/rating websites/organizations could be evaluated. (That template is available for download here:
  • Reviewed college guide websites as well as rankings/ratings websites to determine the “best” and “worst” of these according to evaluation criteria.
  • Approved statement on responsibility for program-specific surveys.
  • Formed a program-specific working group. This group decided upon common definitions for survey completion. The group met with representatives from various offices across campus to gather information. IPAR created a resource guide for program-specific survey completion.
  • Discussed communication plan for media releases related to rankings/ratings (collaboration between Media Services & IPAR) and how to tell our story vis a vis rankings/ratings (as they relate to our mission). As major rankings are released to the public (or just prior to their release to the public), IPAR prepares a set of talking points (to include rankings, comparison to other NC institutions, and general methodology information) to send to News Services. Press releases are then sent to IPAR to review before publication.
  • Formed a working group to determine ways to increase ECU’s name recognition. (These were strategies intended to get ECU’s “name” and credentials in front of those people who are asked by U.S. News to rate us on a peer assessment form. The ratings contribute to our yearly ranking, although typically, multiple years’ of peer assessments are averaged to provide a data point for a single year’s ranking.) The working group was led by Clint Bailey. His unit received funding for reputational marketing. Two mass e-mails were sent out to influencers (e.g., Provosts, Admissions leaders, etc.) at other universities during the 2016-27 academic year. His unit also began boosting Facebook posts, geo-targeting an audience based on a mile radius around top research universities in the country. They also used East Magazine to get ECU’s name in front of those who complete U.S. News peer surveys. Copies of East Magazine were sent to this audience with an additional page attached to the cover. Other strategies were: print ads in the Chronicle, sponsorship of “Academe Today” e-newsletter, and web banners on The result of the promotions was to raise ECU’s peer assessment score (which accounts for 20% of the ranking for Best Colleges) from 2.2 in 2016 to 2.5 in 2022.
  • Helped develop and review a rankings/recognitions webpage.
  • Discussed ways to educate others about rankings/ratings, e.g., presentation to News Services staff from across campus.

As goals and objectives were accomplished, meetings became less frequent. Currently, the group meets twice per year—once in spring and once in fall—primarily to be informed of ECU’s current rankings/ratings and discuss any new ranking publication websites or surveys. Recent news articles pertaining to rankings/ratings are also collected and shared with the group at these meetings.