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Late & Great: Mel Elfin

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

The New York Times: “Mel Elfin, a longtime Washington bureau chief for Newsweek who moved to the rival U.S. News & World Report in 1986 and helped build its college rankings feature into a major educational franchise, died on Saturday in Washington … The rankings had begun in a rudimentary way in 1983, but under Mr. Elfin’s stewardship their criteria were broadened, graduate schools were ranked and U.S. News’s Best Colleges guidebook was published, expanding on the information in the magazine (which is now published only online).”


“Mr. Elfin … faced pushback about the quality and meaning of the rankings. Some critics believed that the rankings formula created a false air of scientific certainty, caused colleges and universities to adjust their policies — or fudge their figures — to raise their rankings, and turned the choice of a college from an essentially educational issue to a high-stakes economic and social transaction. And some school officials howled when their institutions dropped in rank.”


“But Mr. Elfin defended the rankings as an effective way for students and parents to comparison-shop for higher education.” He commented: “When you buy a VCR for 200 bucks, you can buy Consumer Reports to find out what’s out there … When you spend 100 grand on four years of college, you should have some independent method of comparing different colleges. That’s what our readers want, and they’ve voted at the newsstand in favor of what we’re doing.” Mel Elfin was 89.

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