College Ranking Instruments
You want to go to the best college. You have heard so many names dropped that seem to imply the best, but when you go to look up the name on a ranking or a “best” colleges listing, your school isn’t even in the top 100! How is this possible?
Well let’s look at what parameters that are followed for these rankings and guides and discern what those ranks actually mean. You will notice that if a good rank is attributed to a college for whatever—the largest dorm closed space—it will be used heavily on ads on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. Who really cares? Sadly, for some reason, many people live and breathe for the rankings.
Let’s debunk first and foremost, NOT ONE ranking has to do with the quality of academic excellence obtained by students! YES! It is true that not one single ranking or listing guide is based at all on the student academic quality. What are you going to college for, if not the academic quality? So carefully look at the metrics and parameters used to make these lists.
For many there are heavy weightings used for the percentage of graduates who go on to earn other higher level academic prizes or fellowships. These people might end up spending their entire lives earning degrees of various levels of prestige; does this make the school better? Remember there are people who literally make their life’s work going to school and collecting degrees. So does this imply that the schools attended are better, that the graduates of such programs are better? No. An example would be the number of students who go on to become Rhodes Scholars at Oxford after graduation or win the Fulbright or Marshall Scholarships.
Since some of the rankings are mathematically generated by the percentage of students graduating and going on for such scholarships to the number of actual students graduating in that year at the school rather than the actual number of such award winning students, the smaller schools are destined to be ranked higher because 5 out of a graduating class of 400 is a much higher percentage than 35 out of class of 7,000. Does this imply that the school with 35 winners of prestigious awards or scholarships has lesser academic offerings? Absolutely NOT!!
In fact, in the US News & World Report Global University Rankings, which many parents devour with great interest, larger scale schools with more prestigious research grants are placed much higher on the list. In fact, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco are ranked much higher than Ivy League schools such as Cornell. Does that mean people would consider a Cornell education lesser to a UC San Diego degree? I believe that would be a very interesting discussion indeed.
And understand the US News & World Report rankings for US Colleges domestically sends an annual survey to colleges but doesn’t include the Universities’ or Colleges ‘presidents. In fact, a letter is sent specifically requesting that the presidents NOT participate in the survey. There is a great deal of challenge to this methodology, but parents place undue credence on this ranking as actual statistics have shown that an improvement in ranking in this listing leads to an almost 1% increase in applicants. So is it the school that is driving the excellence or simply this rating agency? Do you judge a movie based on the Rotten Tomato Review or your own experience? The listings do not usually ask the graduates or even the employers of the graduates.
Another ranking uses a parameter, which automatically kicks out a lot of really excellent schools—including all of the Ivy League— from any top positions, which is cost to attend versus the ability to earn upon graduating with an undergraduate degree. Those schools that are free (with no cost to attend) automatically get ranked higher. The military academies are ranked very high as was Cooper Union. However, Cooper Union is not as free as it once was thanks to the recession, the cost of living in NYC and inflation. This particular ranking also uses surveys of outside professionals on the educators in the school, which the school has no right to review. So the validity of this ranking as a measure of academic success is not truly established at all.
US News & World Report ranks in a couple of different ways, included small liberal arts and regions. But remember, to read the factors considered when ranking a college. It is not necessarily what you think. The volume of the different rankings of US News & World Report is rather daunting to understand and evaluate. One school might be 50th in the Nation but 1st in its region by School Counselor rankings.
Even more important, no rankings are equated with academic quality or actual employment. These are not part of the parameters. When you choose a college, you need to keep in mind what the college offers you. Not what a publication has decided is good. Some of the statistics in one publication used were the standardized test scores….then a couple of years later there was a huge scandal because one of the highest ranked schools admitted it did not use the correct data of the test scores in its publications at all. It had left out the Reading scores from both its ACT and SAT reported scores on purpose because it lowered the school’s average. So much for the validity of its very high rank!
Now, in order to cover all bases, you will find that the ranking companies have become creative and are ranking virtually under even single parameter so NO college actually looks weak. I call this the T-ball effect, in so much as NO ONE walks away a loser. You have School Counselor Rankings, Best Dorm Rankings, Top National Public, Top State Public, Top Region Public, Top Public Commuter, etc. Some of these rankings have become overdone and truly have NOTHING to do with the quality of education you can get at any school. So please do not rest on using rankings as a measure of the school you want to attend.
The academic world is very dynamic. It changes incredibly in just a decade. Schools ranked in the top of a region today were not even in the top 200 just one decade ago. Did the school change dramatically? Well, it did get bigger because the population got larger. It did gain more students because it merged with another smaller school and now has more dorm space and can accept more students. It did get more donations to open up some programs. Is the difference so dramatic that to raise it 200 spots in ranking in its region? This is something only you can ascertain for yourself.
The statistics of colleges change abruptly based on the population, the economy, and the level of endowments. Some schools have held to very high standards over a century because they have large endowments, are fiscally prudent, and never compromise on teaching standards. Some schools have gained position merely because the student body quadrupled when the Millennials started going to college; this consequence put them on the map and now they have gained some prestige. Now the last of the Millennials are entering college and the population graduating high school, in the US, has remained rather stagnant for the last 7 years. Starting this year, it is expected to decline in the US. So, directly correlated, some smaller, rural colleges are losing attendance. And some, unfortunately, cannot afford to keep their doors open. There will be some changes to the landscape of American Colleges and Universities due to this drop in population. Some will be able to stay strong but how?
Some colleges will lower standards to attract the same level of students to keep the school running and draw continual money for research and so forth. Many of the applicant standards are dropping due to the recession and the affordability of such things as high test scores. Others will open their doors wider to foreign national students. So when you look at those rankings, understand these change often and not due necessarily to an increase or decrease in the quality of the education.
Read the parameters for the rankings. Look at how the information was derived. Take it all with a grain a salt when selecting the college you want to go to….a school is what you make of it! Trust me, in life, there are many people who have amazing degrees but never did anything with them, and there are others who went to schools you might never have heard of, changing the world!