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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Arizona should work on improving its rank

    Christina Jelly columnist
    Christina Jelly

    According to the latest “”America’s Best Colleges”” issue of U.S. News & World Report, the UA shares an 11-way tie for 96th place among national universities. For what it’s worth, that does put us about 30 spots above Arizona State, but still, 96th place is nothing to brag about.

    Every year U.S. News and a profusion of other organizations publicize their own rankings of universities. The Princeton Review, for instance, classifies every dimension of campus life from colleges rife with “”reefer madness”” to those most “”stone cold sober.””

    Princeton Review has had good things to say about the UA in the past – great business program, best student newspaper, etc. This year, however, our only distinction is that our “”Professors Get Low Marks.”” We may be able to blame such slander on the Princeton Review’s flawed method of basing its rankings completely on a smattering of student surveys. Yet, how can the UA rationalize its lackluster performance in other university rankings that ostensibly utilize more objective criteria?

    One strategy is to question the validity of college rankings altogether. This summer, presidents of some of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges protested U.S. News’ reliance on a “”reputation survey.”” The survey asks academic leaders and college presidents to rate other colleges by their opinion alone; their responses then account for 25 percent of the school’s ranking.

    Critics assert the survey cannot serve as a valid basis for judging quality in education. Disapproval of the elaborate calculation of ranking systems is nothing new. College administrations have long emphasized the futility of classifying their own diverse and multifaceted campuses by numbers alone.

    They have a point – it’s impractical to devise a completely objective method to rank schools. Each campus’ unique mix of students, faculty, research, athletics, extracurriculars and community interactions cannot be defined by the reductionist logic and statistically driven analysis employed by ranking institutions. Rankings are based on a selection of factors weighted more or less arbitrarily by the people who rank. Furthermore, the complex schema of school categorization implies a deceptive degree of precision, basing rankings on complicated formulas to make them seem scientific or objective.

    But even our own President Shelton admits those “”ubiquitous, nefarious college rankings that we love to hate”” cannot be ignored. A Cornell University study proved rankings directly affect college applications, admissions and matriculations. Rankings may be a brilliant gimmick, but they indisputably influence students’ and their parents’ judgments of what school to attend. Sure, the ambiguous rankings are a far cry from a thorough qualitative comparison between schools, but they are a powerful force that guides millions of students every year.

    As a result, the UA should continue to address how to develop its academic reputation among the public universities. I am by no means suggesting some of the drastic and questionable tactics employed by other universities. Up at ASU, regents promised President Crow up to $60,000 if ASU climbed the college ranking ladder out of the Tier III pool it has been relegated to each year.

    Still, the UA can take simpler steps to enhancing its image by improving freshmen retention rates and graduate rate performance, expanding faculty resources, and reevaluating student selectivity as well as looking at other ranking criteria that often help define our university.

    For example, a prudent approach to boosting freshmen retention rates is not by overbooking residence halls in hopes that many freshmen will either drop out or get kicked out. Consigning freshmen to sleep in study lounges does not send the message that they are a priority.

    Correspondingly, the UA admissions should be more discriminating. Every year, the UA student enrollment climbs steadily – this year’s freshman class once again broke the university record. As a state school, we cannot keep out all of the dumb kids who clearly do not belong in college, but at least we could limit their number. By focusing its attention and resources on a reasonable number of students, the UA would be better equipped to maneuver its way up the rankings.

    Such small changes in university policy not only advance the UA’s quantitative measures in the rankings but also promote the overall quality of the college experience for every student. The rankings aren’t everything, but if improvements are not made, the only college ranking where UA will continue to come out on top is the FBI’s crime ranking – the UA is No. 1 in property crime among large universities.

    Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. She can be reached at

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