The falsity of college rankings

U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings don’t paint a complete picture.

Luis Ruuska

Last week, U.S. News & World  Report released its annual National University Rankings  list.

As usual, Ivy League schools like Princeton, Harvard and Yale took the top spots. Please, take a moment to digest that; I’m sure you’re shocked.

What may be shocking to many is that a public university doesn’t appear for another 20 places, specifically the University of
California-Berkeley.

This somewhat-troubling discovery brings up two important questions: Just what does go into these rankings, and what is being left out?

U.S. News & World Report says that it bases 77.5 percent of its rankings on seven different factors, including total enrollment, the prior year’s acceptance rate, average freshman retention rate and the six-year graduation rate.

The remaining 22.5 percent is based on peer assessments sent out to the presidents, provosts and deans of admissions at surveyed
universities.

According to U.S. News & World Report, these assessments ask the aforementioned administrators to “rate the quality of the academic programs for schools in the same ranking category, including their own.”

These assessments are confidential and are not available to the public, but it does not take a great leap in logic to assume Harvard University administrators likely know a great deal more about the academic programs of their Ivy League and private school peers than they do about those at a public school like here at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

It is this process of reputation ranking that likely is a huge factor in keeping the same schools in the top 20 year after year.

Perhaps U.S. News & World Report should get rid of its peer assessment survey and instead ask officials at surveyed schools questions that really
matter to students.

Why, for example, isn’t the average student debt at a university factored into these rankings? Where are the questions about employment success after graduation?  Doesn’t it matter that students at the University of Minnesota, which is located in the heart of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., have arguably better access to internship, research and job-shadowing opportunities than those who go to a private college in the middle of rural
New England?

It is almost appalling that U.S. News & World Report leaves such critical factors out of its rankings but instead includes things like student selectivity, which is based on the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the composite ACT score of freshman students.

Basing a college’s academic prestige on its incoming class of students is like predicting a farmer’s crop yield in February. Each student likely has a different experience with high school coursework, and that will carry them to higher education. How can U.S. News & World Report overlook how well universities do at
doing their job?

Although many high school students view U.S. News & World Report’s rankings as the end-all-be-all of college rankings, perhaps they will take the time this year to do their own research and choose a college based on less
superficial factors.