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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    College rankings are not considering important factors

    U.S. News and World Report just came out with its new list of college rankings and to no one’s surprise, an Ivy League school, Princeton University, achieved the top spot. The rankings aren’t much good, though, unless you’re interested in how wealthy, prestigious and exclusive a school is.

    To its credit, U.S. News and World Report is at least trying to move in the right direction with its rankings system. On its website, it explains that it has made “significant changes” to its methodology “to reduce the weight of input factors and increase the weight of output measures.”

    Output measures are the truly important factors for high school students and parents to consider when choosing a school. They include primarily retention rates, which account for 22.5 percent of the overall U.S. News and World Report rank, and graduation rates.

    Yet those “significant changes” didn’t do much to disrupt the top schools­ — none of which are public universities. Princeton and Harvard had tied for first in 2013 and this year they were first and second, respectively. Yale stayed in third while Columbia and the University of Chicago which had tied for fourth in 2013 finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in 2014.

    The University of California at Berkeley was the only public institution to crack the top 20. The UA moved up one spot to No. 119, while Arizona State University dropped to No. 142.

    The U.S. News and World Report methodology still heavily favors wealthy private institutions over public schools without demonstrating how these schools actually provide students with a better education.

    School reputation, which is measured by surveys sent to “top academics — presidents, provosts and deans of admissions — to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching,” account for a whopping 22.5 percent of the overall rank of a school, which is tied for the most important factor.

    Sure, there are things at each university that are difficult to measure with numbers, but how is the president of Yale supposed to know anything about the UA’s “dedication to teaching”? This helps to explain why those top schools always stay at the top — university presidents and other top academics have to vote on a school’s reputation, which is largely dependent on its rank. It’s a vicious cycle.

    The rate of alumni giving, while it only affects 5 percent of the overall rank, is another example of how traditionally wealthy schools will tip the scales of the rating game.

    Also, selectivity, an input factor that is hardly relevant, still accounts for 12.5 percent of the overall rank, which inevitably hurts public institutions that are forced to admit a certain number of in-state students. Sixty-five percent of the selectivity rank, or a little more than eight percent of the overall rank, is determined by average SAT and ACT scores of incoming freshmen.

    Yet studies have shown these standardized test scores have a minimal correlation with first-year college grades, so these scores fail to tell us anything useful about a school beyond how well its students can take tests.

    Ranking a school based on how smart its incoming freshmen are is like ranking a hospital on how sick its patients were when they came in. Sure, the talent that each school attracts is important, but that doesn’t provide prospective students a way to judge the academic quality of a school.

    U.S. News and World Report continues to miss the mark with its rankings system. A ranking methodology should not focus on a school’s reputation or how smart the students are when they get there, it should focus on how well a school prepares students for the future.

    Nathaniel Drake is the opinions editor. Follow him on Twitter.com/nsdrake.

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