Rate My School?
How would you feel if a college treated you like a number — say an ACT or SAT score or maybe your GPA? Doesn’t seem fair, right? After all, what if you wrote a stellar essay and were super involved in high school? Or what if you really aced the admission interview? It doesn’t make sense to rank you as a number, so why do colleges and universities get ranked? Are college rankings a fair measure of their quality?
For some colleges and universities, the rankings are a point of pride, some use it as one tool in their recruitment toolbox and for others the college rankings are a controversial subject. So how should you use these numbers?
College Rankings -What leaders are saying
College rankings and listings, such as those you read about in Newsweek, Forbes or likely the most widely recognized U.S. News & World Report, are considered a starting point for families tackling the college selection process. They are usually based on a formula that includes peer assessment, selectivity, graduation and retention rates, average alumni giving rate and more. Robert J. Morse, director of data research at U.S. News & World Report, says rankings are one way to measure a school, but they are not the only variable you should consider in your college search.
Others think the rankings don’t matter at all. When Defiance College President Mark Gordon found out his school went up in the college rankings, he didn’t share the news. Instead he wrote a blog about why the college and its students shouldn’t care.
“The more I started thinking of the rankings, the more I felt that while they make a lot of sense for U.S. News, it doesn’t make sense for students and it doesn’t make sense for institutions,” Gordon says. When it’s time to rate my school, “We’re taking a different approach.”
Meanwhile, some colleges use rankings like they would other key facts about the college. For instance, dozens of college and university communication departments write press releases about their rankings and post them on their websites or share the news with local media. How should you use them? The college search can be a grueling process with research, applications, campus visits and lots of soul searching.
So how do college rankings fit in?
College listings such as the U.S. News lists can help students figure out class-size, faculty-student ratios and freshman retention rates to learn how hard schools work to keep students from dropping out. U.S. News also offers a directory where students and parents can get information on schools’ location, size, cost, academic offerings and financial aid policies.
“The rankings shouldn’t be the final decision,” Morse says. “That would be the wrong use of the rankings.”
After all, there are other factors to consider that can’t really be measured. Morse says you should consider location, merit aid offerings and what other students are saying about it. Heck, weather can even be a factor. And these kinds of questions are going to vary from one individual to the next. Say I want to look at colleges in big cities. Well, what’s a big city? To me it’s Los Angeles; to you it may be Toledo.
“You’re never going to be able to measure that,” Gordon says. Instead, he says, students should consider other aspects, such as the kinds of hands-on training a college offers and how you feel when you check out the campus.
Gordon says faculty and staff at Defiance College offer individualized attention that helps develop students. The college boasts programs like a student-run non-profit called Project 701, which offers a free student-run, health clinic. These kinds of real world experiences allow students to take their service to the next level. Programs like these are unique to colleges and universities and are nowhere to be found in ranking measurements, Gordon adds.
So, instead of asking how high a college or university ranked, Gordon says students should ask, “Am I going to get the kinds of opportunities that are going to let me explore, that are going to let me experiment, that are, frankly, going to open my eyes.”
Is there any funny business going on?
According to a recent survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), college admission officers believe rankings encourage counter-productive behavior among colleges. In fact, for years there has been talk that college rankings can be manipulated. A percentage of the college’s ranking is based on a peer assessment, where college presidents are asked to rank other colleges.
Roger Sherman, Five Towns College provost/dean of academic affairs, says there are many flaws in the way the college rankings are developed.
“What incentive is there for a certain president to be objective,” Sherman says. “It’s bogus; it’s so misleading.” If I rate my school objectively, many important aspects might be left out. If I rate my school subjectively, the numbers might not stack up.
Do they really know what they are being asked about? What do they know about other schools they may have never stepped foot on? The survey is a bit too subjective for Sherman. Morse at U.S. News says college leaders have the right to their opinions.
“Every college has to react to the rankings in their own way,” he says. “We don’t have that big an ego that we feel every school and every person has to use our rankings. They have to make their own decisions.”
The message here: College rankings and listings are a good way to supplement your search, but remember they aren’t the magic bullet. Do your homework before you decide on the right school for you.
Enid Arbelo Bryant is the Editor in Chief of NextStepU Magazine (www.NextStepU.com).