Opinion: College rankings are a tricky game, and we don’t have to play them

I felt this way because Columbia University admitted to submitting incorrect data to US News and World Report for their annual college rankings. This revelation was brought to light by a university mathematics professor who found discrepancies between the data submitted by Columbia for the ranking and the reality. Since making these discrepancies public, Columbia’s ranking has dropped from #2 to #18.
In fact, scholarship on misleading journalism and reporting dates back to at least the 90s, when US News first debuted in 1983. The stakes are high for schools, with some scholarship highlighting the correlation between grade increases and selectivity and tuition increases. (US News has defended its rankings as “ensuring students make the best decision for themselves.”)

But what’s a high school student or parent to do? Scammers play the game, but it’s the only game in town.

Students can feel trapped (as well as many honest, well-intentioned people in higher education who have no interest in being part of this game). It’s true: you don’t have to play. When US News first started publishing, it was quite a bit more difficult to get information about universities across the country. We live in information overload today, but we can use that to our advantage and do our own research — through expert web searches or emailing schools we’re interested in — to get information on the factors that really matter. to us

I firmly believe that small classes are better than large classes in all disciplines. I know from decades of work in both public and private colleges and universities that full-time faculty commit more resources to educating students over the long term than adjunct faculty or graduate students, however excellent.
I was a pretty good teacher when I was working part-time in elite private schools, but I did my best teaching in a full-time non-elite school (that’s fine with “value” and “social”. mobility). It wasn’t that I was an experienced teacher, but rather that I was able to invest in the students’ entire education, rather than a single brief contact, before going to my next gig.
What’s more, despite the fact that the university released false information about class sizes and faculty status during the Columbia scandal, you don’t have to rely on rankings to figure that out. Go to their course schedules. Find the classes that interest you. See how big they are: Many universities, including Columbia, provide class enrollment sizes in their online class directory. See what they’ve offered regularly over the past few years. See if people who also appear on the full-time Faculty tab on the department’s web page teach regularly. All this information is at your disposal.
Columbia University accepts the submission of incorrect data for consideration in college rankings

You may care about other categories more than class size and percentage of full-time teachers; you probably also care about your happiness in an organization and whether it feels like a “good” fit. We learn better, we live better, when we are happy. It is good to choose colleges based on these factors.

Once you find a level and type of school that suits you (size, region, programs, cost, selectivity, etc.), it almost doesn’t matter which one you choose, so you’ll be happy and comfortable looking for one. it’s ok And, of course, that’s highly individualized and subjective, not reducible to rankings. No two people will have the same experience at Princeton (#1), the University of Virginia (#25), or my employer at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities (#62). It’s much more important to find a place where you thrive than to gather prestige.

For example, I knew I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college. I applied early to Wesleyan University, not just because it’s a wonderful school (it is!), but because I was shy and they only offered me one. I really didn’t want a roommate.
While I was touring schools, however, I visited Macalester College and met a bunch of people in a bluegrass band, and they invited me to a late night party. Their bass player was graduating and I had learned to play bluegrass bass as a kid growing up in Nashville, so they suggested I might be able to play with them the following year. For that reason alone, I ranked my second choice over Macalester, its neighbor Carleton College, or the dozen or so other small liberal arts colleges I was considering.

I got into Wesleyan, went there and never regretted it. A few years later I taught at Macalester and confirmed that I would probably thrive in that community as well. Thirty years later in higher education, I defend my selection criteria as valiantly as anyone else.

While schools exist in varying degrees of selectivity, size, excellence, prestige, etc., the idea of ​​specific rankings is trivial. This means that there is no reason for prospective students to choose the top 5 over the top 20, or the top 20 over the top 40, and so on.

However, elite universities will continue to struggle to make changes at their level, learning to adjust how they appear quantitatively rather than actually caring about quality. It will continue to be a tricky game. But you can get up and walk away from the table, play another game, and find the information you need to make the best decision for you.