Opinion

College rankings do not accurately portray all a university has to offer

Image By: Katie Scheidt

Would you regret going to a college that was ranked a top 10 public university when you got admitted but then drops to number 12 one year later?

This Tuesday, U.S. News & World Report released its 2018 Best Colleges rankings, which consisted of multiple rankings such as Best National Universities, Best National Liberal Arts Colleges, Top Public Schools among National Universities and Best Value Schools.

University of Wisconsin-Madison still remains number 46 on the Best National Universities ranking this year, but surprisingly, does not make it to the Top 10 Public Schools among National Universities list.

U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings are one of the most popular college rankings in the world today but the lists have long been controversial. Even though U.S. News & World Report claims on its website that the rankings “can help applicants and their families search for the right fit” they do not necessarily serve their purpose.

First of all, many aspects of U.S. News’s seemingly complicated methodology are not very convincing. For example, when assessing faculty resources, faculty salary weighs 35 percent. But it is still questionable as to whether a high salary is directly associated with a high dedication to teaching.

Also, U.S. News asked high school counselors for their opinions on colleges and they were “asked to rate schools’ academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished)”. This seems very vague and subjective. Therefore, even though U.S. News has tried its best to make the indicators as varied as possible, improvement is still needed to make the rankings more convincing and objective.

Besides, what is not included in this methodology also challenges the reliability of the rankings. The methodology of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings is mainly focused on academics. People usually associate the quality of a college with its academic excellence, but for students who are looking for colleges, there are more things to consider. It is not just choosing a place to study, but also a place to live, meet new people and discover who you are for the next four or five years.

Thus location, sports, extra-curriculum activities and the quality of campus housing are just a few factors that may influence a student’s overall college experience but are hard to evaluate by a universally agreed standard.

Therefore, a shift of one ranking does not necessarily mean the quality of the school has improved or declined drastically as a whole in the past year. Fortunately for college applicants who still hope to use rankings as a measurement for college, there is more than one organization or institute in this country and worldwide doing college rankings and these rankings evaluate schools from different aspects.

For example, MONEY’s Best Colleges ranking measures a college’s quality, affordability and the earnings of alumni while Business Insider’s ranking assesses a college’s ability to prepare for student’s success in later life. To some degree, these varied rankings make up for each other’s flaws by including unique aspects to their methodology and applicants now have more opportunities to learn about colleges from different perspectives.

It is fun to look at college rankings each year and talk about the changes that occurred on the charts. But for college applicants, I would suggest checking each ranking’s methodology before looking at the list itself, compare multiple rankings, and think critically on the results.

It is always good for applicants to have another measurement when choosing their ideal college, but it is also important to know its limitations and how to use it wisely.

Zhiyun is a junior majoring in English and theatre. Send questions to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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