How Important Are College Rankings to You? – The New York Times

Supported by
How will you determine where you want to go to college? What role, if any, will college rankings play in your decision?
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

Do college rankings matter to you or to the people you know? Should they?
Every year U.S. News & World Report ranks the best colleges and universities in the country. This year, Columbia University rose to No. 2 from No. 3, tied with Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and surpassed only by Princeton.
But colleges self-report the data that the publication uses to make the rankings, such as the amount of money a school raises and spends. And there is little, if any, independent monitoring. Even so, millions of high school students and their parents rely on these annual rankings as a way to determine which schools to apply to. Should they?
In “U.S. News Ranked Columbia No. 2, but a Math Professor Has His Doubts,” Anemona Hartocollis reports on the debate over the value and accuracy of these rankings.
Everyone knows that students buff their résumés when applying to college. But a math professor is accusing Columbia University of buffing its own résumé — or worse — to climb the all-important U.S. News & World Report rankings of best universities.
Michael Thaddeus, who specializes in algebraic geometry at Columbia, has challenged the university’s No. 2 ranking this year with a statistical analysis that found that key supporting data was “inaccurate, dubious or highly misleading.”
In a 21-page blistering critique on his website, Dr. Thaddeus is not only challenging the rating but redoubling the debate over whether college rankings — used by millions of prospective college students and their parents — are valuable or even accurate.
Columbia said it stood by its data. Officials said there was no accepted industry standard for the data that goes into college rankings — every rankings project does it differently — and they strove to meet the technical requirements as set by U.S. News. But, they said, the university was not necessarily defending the process.
The dispute has seized the education world, and university officials are in the awkward position of trying to defend themselves against the sleuthing of one of their own tenured faculty, while not alienating him or his colleagues.
Students, read the entire article and then tell us:
How will you determine where you want to go to college? To what degree do qualities such as academic rigor, fields of study, total cost, social life, athletics, size, location and reputation weigh in your decision? Which characteristics are most important to you?
Will the rankings by U.S. News & World Report or another publication factor into your decision making? Are these rankings helpful in any way? Why or why not?
In a 2012 Opinion piece, Joe Nocera wrote, “U.S. News likes to claim that it uses rigorous methodology, but, honestly, it’s just a list put together by magazine editors. The whole exercise is a little silly. Or rather, it would be if it weren’t so pernicious.” And in the article you just read, Ms. Hartocollis wrote, “Critics of the rankings say that the criteria that go into them — such as class size and instructional spending — can be manipulated, and that the very act of rating schools has produced conformism in the race to the top.” Do you agree with these critics that the annual rankings are not only unreliable but harmful, too? Why or why not?
With so many colleges and universities from which to choose, how can students and their parents sort through all the information? Is there a better alterative to the rankings by U.S. News & World Report to help prospective students find the best schools for them? If yes, what might it be?


Leave a Comment