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Are U.S. college rankings 'bad for education?': 5 things to know today

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, 5:03 p.m.
In this May 28, 2015 photo, Fernando Rojas, a senior at Fullerton High School, attends his graduation ceremony in Fullerton, Calif. Rojas, the son of Mexican immigrants, was accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. He is planning on attending Yale University in the fall. (Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register via AP)
In this May 28, 2015 photo, Fernando Rojas, a senior at Fullerton High School, attends his graduation ceremony in Fullerton, Calif. Rojas, the son of Mexican immigrants, was accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. He is planning on attending Yale University in the fall. (Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register via AP)

Today marked a day dreaded by many university officials nationwide: the annual release of college rankings by U.S. News & World Report .

The rankings have been around for decades, and whether or not they matter to parents and students, they remain deeply significant to university leadership — perhaps too important, a Politico investigation found.

College officials pay so much attention to the rankings that some have used billions of dollars and adjusted long-term strategic plans and admissions goals specifically to move up on the list, Politico's Benjamin Wermund reports .

That's worrisome because the criteria prioritized in the rankings "create incentives for schools to favor wealthier students over less wealthy applicants" and could be exacerbating economic inequality, Wermund writes. Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander went so far as to say he believes "U.S. News has done more damage to the higher education marketplace than any single enterprise that's out there."

Robert Morse, chief data strategist for U.S. News, emphasized the rankings aren't intended to sway school officials to change admission standards. He further argued that 30 years of rankings have spurred greater transparency on the part of colleges, noting "there's no perfect indicator and there's no perfect ranking."

In case you care as much as academics do, Princeton University took the No. 1 spot for 2018, followed by Harvard, University of Chicago, Yale, Columbia University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Trib's Jamie Martines outlines the report's highlights here . (Spoiler: The University of Pennsylvania was the only Pennsylvania school to make the top 20; Carnegie Mellon University came in at No. 25 ).

Here are five more education-related news updates to know today:

1). COLLEGE PRESIDENTS UNITE AGAINST RAPE: When it comes to preventing rape, "it's not enough to simply deal with the issue once it's happened; we have to change the culture," Seton Hill University President Mary Finger said Monday during an event organized by the Southwest PA Says No More coalition, the Trib's Jamie Martines reports .

More than a dozen university leaders joined elected officials, law enforcement and victim advocates from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties in a collective pledge to reduce and better respond to sexual assaults on college campuses.

Nationwide, at least 255 colleges are actively investigating some 360 sexual violence investigations, the Chronicle of Higher Education's Title IX tracker shows. The figure includes 20 active investigations at 15 Pennsylvania colleges.

Monday's commitment by local university officials "not to move backwards" in dealing with sexual assault follows last week's controversial move by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to replace what she branded as a "failed system" of responding to sexual assaults propagated by the Obama administration.

2). PLUM BOARD APPROVES SEX-ABUSE SETTLEMENT: The Plum Borough School Board voted unanimously Monday night to approve a settlement with a woman who accused school officials of failing to investigate accusations of sexual assaults by a politically powerful teacher who's now behind bars, the Trib's Michael DiVittorio reports .

School officials refused to disclose the proposed amount of the settlement until all parties involved sign off on it.

The woman identified only as Jane Doe who filed the federal lawsuit last September claimed that administrators allowed former high school teacher Joseph Ruggieri to prey on her and other students. She said she was 17 when Ruggieri began having sex with her.

The civil lawsuit follows a far-reaching criminal investigation into the school district. A 100-page grand jury report in spring 2016 concluded that Plum administrators had turned "a blind eye to obvious signs of teacher misconduct" that allowed a "suspected serial child predator" to continue teaching years before his arrest. The grand jury did not recommend criminal charges against any administrators.

Ruggieri is serving a two- to five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to sexual assault, corrupting a minor and witness intimidation.

3). HUMANITARIAN CRISIS DEEPENS IN CONGO: The figure is jarring: More than 7.4 million children are not in school in Congo amid intensified violence that has displaced 850,000 children and destroyed more than 900 schools, the Associated Press reports from Senegal.

The Norwegian Refugee Council announced the estimates Monday.

The council warned that violence in the past year in Congo's central Kasai region threatens to have "detrimental effects to the socio-economics of the entire country."

In towns such as Kalemie and Tanganyika, 92 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are out of school, and only 4 percent of expected education-related humanitarian aid has been received this year, the council said.

Children in central Africa's conflict zones further remain at risk of being abducted and turned into child soldiers .

4). RUSSIA CONDEMNS UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE LAW: The Russian government isn't happy about a new education law in Ukraine.

The law approved last week specifies Ukrainian — not Russian — must be the main language used in schools, the Associated Press reports .

The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the legislation as designed to "forcefully establish a mono-ethnic language regime in a multi-national state."

Officials in neighboring Hungary, Romania and Poland also were displeased.

5). NO DEPORTATION AGENTS ALLOWED: California's undocumented students would be safe from surveillance or potential raids by federal immigration agents under proposed legislation to bar officers from schools unless they have a warrant, the Sacramento Bee reports .

Senate Bill 183 also would cover all state-owned buildings, including courthouses.

California Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson has encouraged the state's schools to deem themselves "safe havens" from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — a move similar to one taken by Pittsburgh Public Schools in January when it became a "sanctuary" district .

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat, introduced the bill three days after President Trump made the protest-spurring announcement that he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in six months.

EXTRA CREDIT: Still not sure what the fuss over DACA is all about? The Trib has you covered with this explainer on DACA , whom it protects, what it does and doesn't do and why even DACA recipients don't have a clear path to citizenship.

Don't forget to follow the TribLIVE Education Team on Twitter:

• Emily Balser @emilybalser (Valley News Dispatch newsroom)

• Debra Erdley @deberdley_Trib (Greensburg newsroom)

• Jamie Martines @Jamie_Martines (Greensburg newsroom)

• Natasha Lindstrom @NewsNatasha (Pittsburgh newsroom)

Or email your school-related tips and story ideas to schooltips@tribweb.com.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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