Surprise! Princeton, Harvard, Williams and Amherst are the best universities and liberal arts colleges in the nation. Once again.
Since U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” list, which released its 2015 version earlier this week, seems to never change, I’d like to discuss how these rankings are unnecessary and degrading.
U.S. News & World Report’s methodology consists of up to 16 factors when evaluating institutions. These factors, according to the U.S. News website, include assessments by administrators at peer institutions, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, graduation rate and high school counselor ratings.
These indicators fail to capture so many aspects of the college experience that impact student happiness and success at each college across the country. And since U.S. News admits that a host of intangibles cannot be measured, why rank the schools at all?
Richmond was ranked no. 30 this year, a five-spot drop from 2014. But U.S. News didn’t consider the beautiful, new residence halls all over campus. They did not look closely at the number of high school valedictorians that make up the freshman class. They overlooked the influence of the surrounding city. And they definitely forgot to ask current students about their connection with UR.
Sure, this ranking may be just one aspect that prospective students contemplate when deciding where to submit their college applications. But with the way our society values ranking, it’s hard to believe these numbers don’t weigh heavily on the minds of anxious teens and their parents.
Our culture’s obsession with rankings and ratings has sparked a terrible trend of snap judgments. A single number, arbitrarily or assigned with bias, has the power to dissuade, dissolve confidence and even decrease business.
We rate everything. We rate products that we shop for online. We rank restaurants, hospitals and cities. You can’t even request an Uber driver without being forced to rate your most recent chauffeur.
Rating colleges and universities is especially unforgiving. It does serious damage to schools that may not compare as glamorously to the Yales or Middleburys of the nation, but still offer excellent educations and experiences. It also leads to a potentially slippery psychological slope for students, particularly those who strongly identify with his or her school, as it literally states whether the school is, or is not, regarded highly.
Sociologist William Bruce Cameron once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
There can be no measurement of everything in the education system. Let’s instead focus on raising the standard for all higher education institutions, rather than telling the good ones they are good and the bad ones they are bad -- year after year.