Thursday, September 11, 2014

New College Rankings Remind Us Of What's Wrong With American Higher Education

September 9th, 2014

Today is the biggest day of the calendar year for many college presidents: the annual release of the US News and World Report rankings of “America’s Best Colleges.” For better or worse, the rankings have become the most important measuring stick for elite institutions and the semi-elite colleges that wish to join them. They’ve also functioned as a playbook of sorts for institutions that are dissatisfied with their station and want to rise in the eyes of American families. Improve on the measures that US News uses to define “best,” and you’ll move from coach to first class.
The widely acknowledged problem is that those measures often have everything to do with who colleges admit and less to do with what colleges actually teach them while they’re there. The algorithm has changed somewhat over the years, but above all, these rankings are about prestige and selectivity. The magazine measures academic reputation (via a survey of faculty), admissions selectivity (what percentage of applicants get in, and how high are their SAT’s), financial resources, as well as outcome measures like retention and graduation rates. The fastest and most surefire way to climb the ranks is to attract better students, typically by raising SAT benchmarks, rejecting more applicants, and ensuring that admitted students choose to go (yield). Raising tuition doesn’t hurt either.

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