Every year, reports are released that rank colleges according to a multitude of factors and qualities. US News & World Report, which publishes one of the most important and widely read of these rankings, charges almost 35 dollars for their yearly college ranking report, and prospective college students (and parents of prospective college students, of course) snap them up in huge volumes. After all, the choice of which college to attend is one of—if not the—biggest decisions high school students have had to face in their lives up to that point. It certainly, then, would help to have a scientific study and assessment of all the colleges out there, wouldn’t it? Most would say yes.
More and more people, however, are starting to voice a dissenting opinion. What are their arguments? Why would someone think that these reports are either unhelpful or possibly even detrimental? Here are a few of the reasons that those who think this way are giving.
1. It’s a Publishing Racket
Many who find college rankings to be less useful that publicized believe that newspapers and magazines like the US News & World Report have simply engineered a need in order to sell their publication. By hiding a lack of real-world utility behind a veneer of “scientific” processes and seemingly rigorous, methodological research, these critics believe, publications have found a way to make their product seem and feel necessary to the college search process—when in reality it provides very little actual benefit. On this opinion, publishers of college rankings reports are simply preying upon the stress and anxiety of parents and students in order to sell copies of their publications.
2. It Isn’t Trustworthy
One of the more surprising facts about the college rankings process, for most people, is that many colleges—knowing how seriously parents and students take these reports—have been shown to falsify the data given to publishers in order to make their college’s rank rise. Most recently, Claremont McKenna—an elite, upper echelon school in California—admitted to supply falsified data for the reports for just this very reason. What is most disconcerting about this fact is that this scandal reaches the highest ranks, that even the very best schools are engaging in this deceit. If even these schools can’t be trusted, the argument goes, how can the rankings be relied upon as an accurate source of information for students and parents to base their decisions on?
3. The Subjectivity Problem
Another issue raised is simple, but represents a real problem: these publications do their best to present their rankings as “objective” and “scientific,” but in reality there is much that is subjective in the comparison between schools—especially schools in similar quality strata. Is Princeton really better than Yale? Can data decide this? Proponents of this argument make the case that these types of decisions can’t be shown objectively; in reality, these schools—as close as they are in quality—are better for some types of people and not others.
Lastly—and this is more of a philosophical difference than an argument—those who find college rankings less useful than purported often say that the whole idea of ranking colleges in the first place has the harmful effect of creating the illusion that college choice should be decided by which college is best overall, instead of which college is best for you. Their logic works as follows: Columbia College may be ranked as one of the best art schools in the nation, but if you’re from Arkansas and there’s a solid art school that fits you better and is closer to home, it means it’s probably a better choice for you—college rankings be…well, you know.
Otter Boone writes for concorde.edu; be sure to visit them to learn about their medical assistant school degree programs.