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Perceptions of institutional quality: Evidence of limited attention to higher education rankings

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  • Meyer, Andrew G.
  • Hanson, Andrew R.
  • Hickman, Daniel C.

Abstract

Rankings of colleges and universities provide information about quality and potentially affect where prospective students send applications for admission. We find evidence of limited attention to the popular U.S. News and World Report rankings of America’s Best Colleges. We estimate that applications discontinuously drop by 2%–6% when the rank moves from inside the top 50 to outside the top 50 whereas there is no evidence of a corresponding discontinuous drop in institutional quality. Notably, the ranking of 50 corresponds to the first page cutoff of the printed U.S. News guides. The choice of college is typically a one-time decision with potentially large repercussions, so students’ limited attention to rankings likely represents an irrational bias that negatively affects welfare.

Suggested Citation

  • Meyer, Andrew G. & Hanson, Andrew R. & Hickman, Daniel C., 2017. "Perceptions of institutional quality: Evidence of limited attention to higher education rankings," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 241-258.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:142:y:2017:i:c:p:241-258
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2017.07.036
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Higher education; Decision heuristics; Limited attention; Salience;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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