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New college rankings are out. Are they part of the problem?

The annual US News & World Report college rankings were released Tuesday, and critics charge they're contributing to a national college affordability problem that has seen student debt soar.

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People are led on a tour on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. in August 2012. According to statistics released Tuesday, by US News & World Report, the average student receiving financial aid at Harvard and Yale paid about a quarter of the sticker price and most graduates leave with smaller debt than peers who attended less prestigious schools.

Elise Amendola/AP/File

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The latest college rankings from US News & World Report came out Tuesday, ending any speculation about whether Harvard, Princeton, or Yale will emerge on top this year. (It’s Princeton; last year was a tie between Princeton and Harvard.)

But, while jockeying for the top spot can be a friendly battle among elite institutions, whose positions in the top tier are largely assured and rarely shift more than a place or two, critics charge that the rankings – along with not delivering much useful information – are contributing to the college affordability problem.

This year, the rankings come out against the backdrop of a national discussion on soaring student debt and skyrocketing tuition, and a proposal from President Obama to create a new national college ranking system – one that would emphasize things like graduation rates and sticker price.

"We’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities – you can get all of that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate them on who's offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck,” Obama said in a speech last month at the University of Buffalo.

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