Why College Rankings Are a Joke

The rankings nourish the myth that the richest, most selective colleges have some corner on superior education; don’t adequately recognize public institutions that prioritize access and affordability; and do insufficient justice to the particular virtues of individual campuses.

.. He said that he’d never trade his faculty position here for one elsewhere, though he has been wooed, because of U.M.B.C.’s almost unrivaled record for guiding African-American undergraduates toward doctorates and other postgraduate degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

.. Diversity, socioeconomic or otherwise, doesn’t factor much into U.S. News rankings, though a broadening of perspectives lies at the heart of the best education. U.M.B.C., with its acceptance rate of nearly 60 percent, places 159th among national universities.

.. One of the main factors in a school’s rank is how highly officials at peer institutions and secondary-school guidance counselors esteem it. But they may not know it well. They’re going by its reputation, established in no small part by previous U.S. News evaluations. A lofty rank perpetuates itself.

Gladwell: On Rankings (Universities, etc)

Some years ago, similarly, a former chief justice of the Michigan supreme court, Thomas Brennan, sent a questionnaire to a hundred or so of his fellow-lawyers, asking them to rank a list of ten law schools in order of quality. “They included a good sample of the big names. Harvard. Yale. University of Michigan. And some lesser-known schools. John Marshall. Thomas Cooley,” Brennan wrote. “As I recall, they ranked Penn State’s law school right about in the middle of the pack. Maybe fifth among the ten schools listed. Of course, Penn State doesn’t have a law school.”

Those lawyers put Penn State in the middle of the pack, even though every fact they thought they knew about Penn State’s law school was an illusion, because in their minds Penn State is a middle-of-the-pack brand. (Penn State does have a law school today, by the way.)

.. My purpose is to prepare a map which shall show the distribution of those characteristics which are generally recognized as of the highest value. I mean by this the power of initiative, the capacity for formulating new ideas and for carrying them into effect, the power of self-control, high standards of honesty and morality, the power to lead and to control other races, the capacity for disseminating ideas, and other similar qualities which will readily suggest themselves.