George Leef’s latest column for Forbes challenges the value of college rankings.
Until U.S. News & World Report came out with its first rankings of colleges and universities in 1983, few Americans obsessed over the perceived prestige of the school they attended. Some universities were rather vaguely regarded as superior because they were more selective among applicants and had some famous professors on the faculty, but there was nothing like the frenzy to get into one of them that we see today.
Nor was there anything like today’s frenzy among college administrators to “move up in the rankings” — or to avoid the dreaded, career-threatening decline. Those who bring about the former often get extra compensation and increase their chances of being hired by a bigger, more prestigious institution. Those who suffer the latter find themselves on thin ice.
If U.S. News had come up with some way of evaluating colleges and universities on their educational results, some good might have come from them. The problem is that no one, then or now, has a method for determining how much educational value any of our schools adds. Instead, the rankings were based on inputs such as faculty credentials, alumni giving, and student selectivity (rejecting lots of applicants makes a school look good) and unquantifiable assessments of “reputation” by other college leaders.
None of that necessarily tells us anything about educational quality.
George covered this topic during a recent interview for Carolina Journal Radio/CarolinaJournal.tv.