It’s the time of year when many of us wait breathlessly for the new U.S. News rankings to come out. But, not really. Only 18% of students entering four-year colleges as first-time freshmen last fall told us in the CIRP Freshman Survey that rankings in national magazines were a “very important” factor in their admissions decisions. Who is waiting breathlessly? As someone who is asked every year to comment on the rankings, it seems to me that who cares most is the media. Second would be college presidents and development officers. Way down the list seem to be those who are actually trying to decide where to go to college.
Of the 22 reasons entering college students were asked about with respect to chose their particular college, the college rankings “ranked” eleventh.
In a recent article that HERI Director Sylvia Hurtado and I co-authored in the summer issue of “College & University,” we are one of several critics of the current ranking systems. Sylvia and I propose a new set of criteria for a better system. This would include including creating a multidimensional ranking, rather than using multiple disparate criteria to come up with one summative number. Further, having the enterprise implemented by a not-for-profit organization without a motive to sell magazines, and having applicability to community colleges as well as four-year colleges are among the principles we would suggest in a new ranking system.
Another strong call to arms for new rankings would be ones that take into account the needs of a diverse student body and appropriately treat institutions with mission’s that include broad access.
As you see the various commercial magazine rankings unveiled over the next few months, I ask you to think about what they really tell us about higher education, and if the various values reflected in our mission statements are reflected in their criteria. Or are they mostly about selling magazines? And then, what do you think we can do about it?