Kevin Carey explains how U.S. News and World Reports is  responsible for out of control college tuition. His logic is impeccable:
10 percent of the rankings are a function of spending per student ... If a university were able to figure out how to reduce its costs by, say, 10 percent, while holding quality constant, and it chose to pass those savings along to its customers in the form of a tuition decrease, its U.S. News rankings would go down. If, on the other hand, it became 10 percent less efficient and passed the cost onto customers in the form a tuition increase (not a hard thing to do if you're a selective college), its ranking would go up. All of this stems from a deficit of reliable, comparable, institution-level measures of quality. Thus we have this crazy higher education market with no value proposition, one where cost and quality are assumed to be the same thing -- and in the sense that high-end higher education is a luxury good that primarily serves to signal your exclusive ability to acquire and pay for it, they are the same thing.
Go look at the U.S. News methodology yourself. The SAT scores of the students are a mere 7.5% of the ranking. But direct spending is indeed 10% of the ranking, and "Faculty Resources" is 20% of the ranking, and 80% of that 20% is directly or indirectly determined entirely by the faculty payroll. So 26% of the ranking is based on how much money the college spends. Obviously the incentive for prestigious colleges is to spend as much as possible (mostly on faculty) to boost its ranking.
It's funny how there's so much whining about how it's unfair that college rankings are based on SAT scores, but in fact, how much money the college spends is more than three times as important to the rankings.
Using this rating system, a school like Cooper Union that "admits undergraduates solely on merit and awards full scholarships to all enrolled students" but provides a no-frills education will never rise to the top of the prestige rankings. Once upon a time, Cooper Union was a prestigious school, but its prestige has been killed by U.S. News. Nowadays, no one had even heard of it. Merely providing quality education to the brightest students doesn't cut it.