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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Joining the Joneses: UA should ditch empty competition, join in rankings revolt”

    Word on the street is that the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings are coming under fire. And the UA stands to benefit.

    Thursday, The Christian Science Monitor reported that educators are staging a revolt, circling a petition calling for university presidents to spurn the magazine’s annual survey form (which is used to calculate 25 percent of the rankings) and to refrain from touting the rankings in admissions material.

    So far, reaction from U.S. News has been muted, though Executive Editor Brian Kelly pointed to “”a great hunger among consumers to have some tangible data to use”” and scoffed at “”some universities (who) are unwilling to give people the information they want.””

    What Kelly won’t mention is the fact that his magazine’s rankings have almost no relation to the things that actually determine student success. Take, for instance, the principal factor that helps to determine a school’s ranking – “”academic reputation.””

    That’s a rather ambiguous term, especially when one considers the method by which U.S. News acquires those numbers: surveys that ask college administrators to rank hundreds of schools on a one-to-five scale.

    The “”reputation surveys,”” as they’re called, account for a whopping 25 percent of a school’s ranking score, despite the fact that they amount to little more than a beauty contest at best and a guessing game at worst. To make matters worse, figures that might actually matter (like retention rates and graduation rates) account for far less (20 percent and 5 percent, respectively).

    All this would seem to suggest that universities should boycott the rankings in their own self-interest, but many seem so thoroughly invested in the numbers that they’re willing to cook the books to get the U.S. News stamp of approval. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that some schools have even adopted questionable accounting practices to boost their alumni giving rate (which accounts for 5 percent of a ranking score).

    Clearly, something must be done to end the madness. The boycott is a good start, and the UA should follow suit.

    Administrators will surely worry that it will reduce the UA’s visibility, but they would be sorely mistaken. To be quite frank, the UA’s ranking (No. 98) isn’t particularly noteworthy to begin with, and more importantly, many of the criteria by which U.S. News judges colleges (retention rates, graduation rates, alumni giving rates) don’t particularly favor the UA anyway.

    If the U.S. News rankings were rendered useless by a nationwide boycott, though, it would force many high school seniors to seek out colleges that cater to their specific interests rather than “”brand name”” colleges that may not afford such an opportunity. What’s more, it would allow universities to focus on improving their strong programs rather than sacrificing them in an effort to climb in the rankings. Both developments would benefit the UA.

    Rankings are nice, for ambitious students and (more often) for their equally aggressive parents. But the U.S. News rankings are severely flawed, and in a way that can hurt powerful public research schools like the UA. Rather than competing, the UA should join the Joneses – the result will be better students, better choices and a better university.

    Opinions Board

    Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Damion LeeNatali, Stan Molever, Nicole Santa Cruz and Matt Stone.

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