Equally Useless College Rankings Stir Debate

Washington Monthly has published its third annual college rankings. Unlike the U.S. News & World Report rankings--which the editors at WM mock and deride as useless and misguided--the listings from this left-liberal pub promise to tell you "not just to what colleges can do for you, but what colleges are doing for the country." The brief version of their methodology:

We use three criteria that we believe best measure the impact schools have on the country. The first is social mobility: does the school do a good job recruiting and graduating poorer students? The second is research: is the school supporting the scientific and humanistic study that is key to our national strength, by producing PhDs and winning research grants? And the third is service: how effectively does the school foster an ethic of giving back to the country, either through military or civilian service?

The rankings and more are here. The top pick will be a surprise to most, especially those attending that particular institution.

I'm all for more and more college rankings, along more and more dimensions. I'm also all for social mobility, though the exact connection between that and what college you go to is far from clear. I'm dubious about the way WM gauges research and service--does the number of students who go on to the Peace Corps really say anything about anything (other than how many students from a school go on to the Peace Corps)? But have at it.

Update: Two rankings really worth debating: 1) The Princeton Review's list of "Top Party Schools." 2) AP Preseason College Football Poll.

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  • ||

    It says they graduated and couldn't find a job so they joined Peace Corps to get a deferment on having to pay back their student loans. That and they probably got degrees in some obscure crap that really has no professional viability.

    College rankings always crack me up. Just watch any news show and look for the pinheads they have on from all the Elite Schools. These are the same pinheads your paying lots of money to fill your kids head with crap.

    The amount you spend on an education does not attest to how educated you actually become. There is no direct relationship between dollars spent and IQ points.

    Even grade point averages are a poor way to measure how intelligent someone may be. IE Same class has 3 different teachers, one is hard as hell and you have to bust your ass to get a C. Another one is a pushover and easy as all hell and you get an A. Based on the letter grade it would be implied the A student learned far more when in fact the C student learned 10 times more just to get the C.

  • Fluffy||

    I would question the utility of the Peace Corps measurement for a different reason - namely, that it has very little to do with the actual education provided at the school, and merely measures a quirk of the admissions process.

    I would bet quite heavily that the overwhelming majority of people who enter the Peace Corps were either determined to or destined to enter before attending a single college class. Crunchy people are crunchy beginning in high school if not earlier. There isn't something magical about a Cornell education that makes students there clap their hand to their forehead and exclaim, "Damn, I have discovered here among the hallowed halls of Cornell that I want to enter the Peace Corps!"

  • ||

    Considering that their second criteria is research, you think they might have done some and found out that A&M is not the proposed site of the W Presidentail Library but is the home of the existing Bush I Library.

  • ||

    I never really paid attention to where my undergrad University was ranked, it was just pretty much where 75% of my high school went so I figured it was good (and cheap) enough for me.

    However, we were ranked the third most sinful university in the country by an evangelical organization! This of course meant there were real nuts--not nice, normal evangelicals mind you--but real assholes out there in the student commons every spring screaming that we were going to hell.

  • ||

    Cesar,

    We call them Jesus-Shouters.

  • stephen the goldberger||

    these are just silly. judging colleges on this criteria just shows how far we've gone from the real purpose of college in people's minds: preparation for the working world.

  • ||

    Texas A&M makes sense. Any university that has Dr. Norman Borlaug has done more for humanity than the next 29 combined.

  • ||

    And what a surprise my alma mater VCU is near the bottom. I guess it makes sense, it seemed like a pretty hedonistic school.

  • ||

    The presense of a strong ROTC program seems to guarantee a top 10 slot.

  • ||

    The first is social mobility: does the school do a good job recruiting and graduating poorer students? The second is research: is the school supporting the scientific and humanistic study that is key to our national strength, by producing PhDs and winning research grants? And the third is service: how effectively does the school foster an ethic of giving back to the country, either through military or civilian service?

    What a bullshit way to rank schools. This country was built on naked self interest not "service".

    Perfect example of what a joke our colleges are. Mine uses our money to fund enviro nuts and drag queen beauty shows. Professors without the most basic understanding of economics demand health care as a human right. Many openly measure a person's virtue by how many minorities they have around them. A person who actually knows about history and other cultures, who perhaps maybe has even read a book, is rare. People just know that they like whoever is poor and dark. Pretty white girls have converted to fucking Islam!

    My school has an "office of diversity and equity". Mind you, there isn't an office for each virtue a person can have, diversity is the only virtue that is worth its own office. Here's the website with the man picture being one person of every race talking and laughing with one another.
    http://www.colorado.edu/cu-diversity/

    They have links to "diversity news" and "diversity plans and reports". They give "diversity awards".

    I hate educated people. After graduation I feel like moving to Alabama and hanging out with illiterate rednecks for the rest of my life.

  • ||

    Pretty white girls have converted to fucking Islam!

    Haha, I knew a girl that did that and it lasted about three weeks.

  • ||

    Hey Chalupa, my college had real diversity (65% white whereas most others in VA are like 90%+white), and it doesn't sound nearly as loony as your college. But didn't you go to the same one that Ward Churchill taught at? That would explain a lot!

  • Rich Ard||

    You're at UC Boulder and the diversity training is what you're complaining about?

    People just know that they like whoever is poor and dark. Pretty white girls have converted to fucking Islam!

    Oh boy. You're a weirdo.

  • ||

    One day, someone is going to make a serious effort to judge colleges not on 1) the value of their inputs or 2) their "service to others" but rather their "value added" or perhaps the "value of their outputs" (noting that those two are different).

    Isn't "what does College X bring to the students who attend it?" a better signal of its quality than the value of its endowment etc? Isn't "what skills, aptitudes and dispositions do its graduates have?" (not "who do they know?") a better signal also?

  • ||

    So they've filtered out all the irrelevant stuff about "quality of the education students receive". Good plan.

  • ||

    Caesar,

    All the other professors are Ward Churchill lite. I remember this one writing professor who made us write about global warming all semester. He would always say stuff like "that's for your generation to figure out" and his questions were always framed in the way of of how much government should do to correct the world's problems. The opinion that some things government has no business doing he seems to never have heard. I argued with him a lot, he just never got it. He'd say stuff like "You know, making money doesn't neccisarily have to hurt society" without thinking twice. The man had collectivism in his blood.

    The economics professor was the only one who talked any sense.

  • ||

    College rankings play to American status anxiety as much as anything.

    Also, it's not clear to me why the US News and others feel the need to rank colleges every year. Do things really changes that much year-to-year?

  • T||

    MAn, that's pretty funny. There's just one problem with ranking A&M highly on any scale: Aggies. The vast majority of the graduates of A&M have this weird idea that because they graduated from A&M with a degree in, I dunno, agricultural psychology, they're magically qualified to be a manager or a director. You can only hire Aggies after they've spent 5 years or so in the work force and had the BS knocked out of them.

    Plus, they do have strange degrees that have "agricultural" in front of them. I knew a guy who got a degree in agricultural economics. What, do cows change the laws of supply and demand? Or do chickens make a mockery of comparitive advantage?

    Aggies. Meh.

    Full disclosure: I graduated from the University of Texas, so I'm biased.

  • ||

    The U.S. News rankings essentially match up with a ranking of starting salaries for grads. This is certainly the case for their grad school rankings, which explicitly use starting salaries in their methodology.

    So yes, the U.S. News rankings are actually quite useful for aspiring college or grad students who go to school to get a job or to get into a good grad school (to get a better job) *gasp*. Some shitty schools like to whine about the rankings, but that's to be expected.

  • ||

    A couple of weeks ago I found myself on a College Rankings web site. The rankings were done by the students.

    I looked up my alma mater (RIT) and was surprised that over half the students gave it a negative rating. I looked up a few of their reviews and found they were saying things like:

    The male/female ratio is terrible. There's no social life. etc.

  • ||

    Warren-

    Thats a good point, rankings in magazines can tell you a lot of things but it tells you nothing about the culture of said university. Whats the social life like, whats there to do, is it liberal or conservative, etc.

    My friend went to William and Mary, a freaking great university as far as academics go, but after living in a place like Williamsburg for a year he wanted to drop out.

  • ||

    Pretty white girls have converted to fucking Islam!

    You were doing so well lately GC, but that one gets you back your old moniker...it is the return of the GRANDE CABRON...

    Rich Ard- spot on!

    /;)

  • ||

    I'm not shocked to see the Universities of California ranked at the top of a list which purports to measure "social mobility." I work for one of them, and sometimes I believe my entire department is designed to shift funding from decent students (usually scientists) with high GRE scores to aspiring ethnic studies Ph.D.s with less than 400s on their verbal GREs. Because, you know, that Ph.D. in ethnic studies really helps when it comes time to find real employment and all of that economic mobility.

    Although everyone thinks of college rankings as mere anxiety-inducers, nobody considers the perspective of the student, faced with a plethora of choices and very little hard data. Let's assume for the moment that we have a bright kid in the middle of nowhere, whose parents didn't go to college or who went to local colleges. His guidance counselor at school is of little help. He's a voracious reader who manages to get a 750 on his verbal SAT and wants to know where he'll meet people with whom he can have a conversation about Proust. College rankings will help him determine that Local U boasts SAT verbal scores in the 450s--which, let's face it, is functionally illiteracy, at least when it comes to college. He's able to determine from the rankings that colleges elsewhere have student populations that look much more like him. How is this a bad thing? The more information out there, the better. The rankings themselves are probably pretty irrelevant. Not even the most status conscious are going to cry themselves to sleep at night because they only got into third-ranked Yale, not first-ranked Princeton.

  • lunchstealer||

    Wow. Aggies really would be really suprised to read that news.

    Actually, they'd be suprised to read.

  • Rhywun||

    "Giving back..." *rolls eyes*

    Busting my hump 9 to 5 is every bit as important as the "giving back" they have in mind. My economic contribution is just as important to the well-being of my community as some selfless person collecting pennies for the homeless on the street, and I'm sick and tired of being guilt-tripped into thinking otherwise.

  • ||

    Converts to all religions bother me, but to be raised in a western liberal society and turning to islam can not be described as anything besides mental illness.

    Looks like Neu Mejican is a pc nut when it comes to religion too.

  • ||

    Shannon Chamberlain, you just described my college-selection experience. And it was nice to have SOME info, ANY info, no matter how subjective/flawed/inconsistent because my only other option was to pick randomly (which, had I more than one interation, probably would have been the right call.)

  • ||

    *iteration*

  • ||

    This is like producing a ranking of the best counties for poor people by including the total number of rich people in the county.

    This ranking rewards places that are too easy (higher grad rate than predicted), schools that are too big (number of PhDs and research grants), and schools where you will never see a professor (PhD to Bachelor's rank).

    Also, check out the instability of the rankings year-to-year. Brown fell from 34 to 67. BYU went from 124 to 68. Dartmouth went from 35 to 73. Some place called Stevens went from 185 to 77. Stony Brook went from 223 to 99. Rice went from 26 to 103. A set of decent rankings wouldn't change very much.

  • ||

    If a major criterion is giving back to the country by military service, where are the military academies?

  • ||

    I see my alma mater has a "predicted graduation rate" of 102%. Methinks someone should have a look at that predictor.

  • ||

    If I'm deciding which college to attend, shouldn't I be most concerned about what each college will do for me?

    I'm amused by their bashing of Rice. Basically because the people who aren't accepted by Rice are poorly served, by Rice.

    No kidding.

    Aggies make great employees. Very teachable.

  • ||

    College rankings play to American status anxiety as much as anything.



    Americans don't have status anxiety, so much as they want their kids to make a lot of money. They feel that the better the college ranking, the easier it will be for them to get a job.

    Also, it's not clear to me why the US News and others feel the need to rank colleges every year. Do things really changes that much year-to-year?



    To sell magazines? To sell advertisments?

    A) Pretty much every college bound high school senior or their parents are going to be picking up the magazine. Lots of sales.

    B) Lots of targeted marketing to those selling to college bound high school students or their parents.

  • ||

    Converts to all religions bother me, but to be raised in a western liberal society and turning to islam can not be described as anything besides mental illness.

    What's wrong with converting to another religion. If anything, this bothers me less than blindly accepting whatever religion you were raised in. Also, converting to Islam in a Western society, especially in the US where the beliefs are moderate, doesn't strike me as insanity. It's no more insane then joining a conservative evangelical or fundamentalist church.

  • The Wine Commonsewer-Reg US Pa||

    Cal Tech rates LAST?

    Well, now there's a reliable list of high quality college rankings for you.

    It's no more insane then joining a conservative evangelical or fundamentalist church.

    But Mo [taps foot several times], in libertarian eyes, joining the fundies is prima facie evidence of a plummet (that's FREE FALL in your world) into the very bowels of mental illness. Therefore, your illustration comes to exactly, null and void. :-)

  • ||

    Sticking to your own religion at least has rational, social reasons for it. It brings you closer to your family and community.

    Basically, it boils down to this. People who stick with their own religion never thought about the subject. People who join new ones have. And anybody who has thought about the subject of religion without becoming an atheist or agnostic has bizarre reasoning skills. I'd say the same thing about a muslim converting to christianity, unless that person was living in the west which would make it more of an assimilation thing.

  • ||

    Chalupa--

    I knew a few Muslims in college, and they all became either lazy Muslims (go to the Mosque on Rammadan) or agnostic/atheists after living in the USA. I'm pretty sure their numbers balance out anyone who converts to fundamentalist Islam.

  • ||

    If the college I graduated from ranks high in some category or other, should I mention that fact on my resume?

    Gratuitous bragging: After my freshman year, my school was ranked the #1 party school in the country by the Princeton Review (I think. I know it was some widely trusted index.) I think its down to like 6 or 7 now.

  • atrevete||

    Anyone who goes to one of the "top three" Harvard, Princeton, Yale without being extremely rich or on a scholarship is getting taken to the cleaners. I feel sorry for the parents who would save up for this and sorrier for the kids who agonized in high school about their SAT scores.

    One's character, e.g. willingness to take risks, self-discipline, confidence in one's own vision and judgment, and sense of life, coupled with ambition are what determines success in life, including the workplace, and even university. Bill Gates is an Ivy League dropout. And whatever I've contributed to his life, he's contributed far more to mine.

  • ||

    Tom - Virginia Military Institute is on the list. Did it horrify the editors of Washington Monthly that there top pick was in Texas? You know rednecks, Cowboys fans and George Bush?

  • ||

    One's character, e.g. willingness to take risks, self-discipline, confidence in one's own vision and judgment, and sense of life, coupled with ambition are what determines success in life, including the workplace, and even university. Bill Gates is an Ivy League dropout. And whatever I've contributed to his life, he's contributed far more to mine.

    According to people at my college, what you do doesn't matter. We're all helpless creatures in the face of different centers of power that run our lives. We're all either opressors or victims.

    And Bill Gates and other evil people who work for profit have contributed nothing to this world. They dared making products that people would spend their own money on rather than working towards social justice and making sure they always surrounded themselves with one person of every race.

    Yes, I'm very bitter.

  • ||

    Woo Hoo! Caltech at 141! I would think that we produce a lot of future PhDs, although I can see my time in Iraq as an engineering and development advisor to the Army wouldn't count as "service." Then again, I only received my PhD there, and did my undergrad in a SUNY school.

  • unamused||

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. those rankings are meant as a joke, right?

  • Rhywun||

    Did it horrify the editors of Washington Monthly that there top pick was in Texas?

    It horrifies me :) Then again, this list is bollocks anyway.

    Anyone who goes to one of the "top three" Harvard, Princeton, Yale without being extremely rich or on a scholarship is getting taken to the cleaners.

    Agreed. I really wanted to go to Cornell but I was too poor to afford it and too rich to get a full ride. It took me fifteen years to pay off the State school I went to--I can't imagine how long it would take to pay off an Ivy.

  • ||

    Happy Valley in their top five; I am mortified!!! Not even the recent top ten ranking among party schools can make up for this!

  • ||

    Pretty white girls have converted to fucking Islam!

    Still dateless, eh?

  • ||

    Americans don't have status anxiety, so much as they want their kids to make a lot of money. They feel that the better the college ranking, the easier it will be for them to get a job.

    I think that if the only people who paid attention to these rankings were parents whose kids are about to choose a college we'd not hear so much about them.

    Instead, it seems to be mostly alumni of colleges who care about the list to see how well their alma mater is ranked compared to other schools. Aside from the status factor, why would anybody care about such a trivial thing?

  • ||

    For once, I agree with Dan T. Suggesting that Americans lack status anxiety is absurd; status seeking is an inherent (and largely detestable) trait of the human animal.

  • ||

    I'll be honest. Back when I was looking at schools, I used US News and World Report Rankings. I also read The Princeton Review, talked to alumni, talked to people I knew that recruited from the schools, went and visited my main choices and looked at my finances for attending the schools.

    I think people who are bashing US News are really just looking at the top list and not looking at the important stats like class size, alumni giving (students actually appreciate what they got and have enough to give back), and peer assesment. Sure there's alot of questionable rankings, but those are important to me and helped out.

    You'll notice the schools complaining are the liberal arts institutions and as far as producing a productive, well paid individual, they don't and are ranked such.

    I would like to see a ranking comparing average tuition to average graduation salary though.

  • Rich Ard||

    Pretty white girls have converted to fucking Islam!

    I didn't realize Cat Stevens was getting so much ass.

  • ||

    "Plus, they do have strange degrees that have "agricultural" in front of them. I knew a guy who got a degree in agricultural economics. What, do cows change the laws of supply and demand? Or do chickens make a mockery of comparitive advantage?"

    Figures a TU grad would think Ag Eco is a strange degree - applied economics at an Agriculture school? That is crazy man, smoke another joint hippie. ....would be something that I would have said within 5 years of graduating.

  • atrevete||

    According to people at my college, what you do doesn't matter. We're all helpless creatures in the face of different centers of power that run our lives. We're all either opressors or victims.

    Well, of course, GC, THEY"RE COLLEGE PROFESSORS!! That probably pretty much describes their lives to a tee. After you graduate you won't have to be so bitter. But they still will.

  • ||

    Somehow I don't think a social mixer between the top two colleges would go over well.
    Or a football scrimmage, for that matter.

  • ||

    Anyone who goes to one of the "top three" Harvard, Princeton, Yale without being extremely rich or on a scholarship is getting taken to the cleaners. I feel sorry for the parents who would save up for this and sorrier for the kids who agonized in high school about their SAT scores.



    No. All the colleges you listed offer sizeable grants for those who come from modest means. To say nothing of the fact that the jobs (and commensurate salaries) available to those who complete degrees at those big three are substantially better than those available to those who complete degrees at Generic State U. The full tuition, which relatively few students actually pay, is a bargain given the long term return.

    I really wanted to go to Cornell but I was too poor to afford it and too rich to get a full ride. It took me fifteen years to pay off the State school I went to--I can't imagine how long it would take to pay off an Ivy.



    With the job you have now - a bit longer. With the jobs you could have gotten after graduating from Princeton, Harvard or Yale - a lot shorter.

  • Goldthwait||

    I stopped reading this asinine piece of drivel when I saw they used "number of peace corps volunteers" as one of their criteria. As if the colleges in this country weren't too ideological already.

  • Goldthwait||

    "I hate educated people. After graduation I feel like moving to Alabama and hanging out with illiterate rednecks for the rest of my life."


    You should fit right in.

  • Goldthwait||

    "You know, making money doesn't neccisarily have to hurt society"

    Fuck, a writing professor spelled necessarily incorrectly? Your school must really suck.

  • atrevete||

    No. All the colleges you listed offer sizeable grants for those who come from modest means. To say nothing of the fact that the jobs (and commensurate salaries) available to those who complete degrees at those big three are substantially better than those available to those who complete degrees at Generic State U. The full tuition, which relatively few students actually pay, is a bargain given the long term return.

    Totally doubt this in the long run. Perhaps STARTING salaries, but after a few years in the workplace it's those with vision and ambition who win out. Look at Forbes 100 Richest. How many are Harvard graduates? And there's at least one high school dropout.

  • ||

    Totally doubt this in the long run. Perhaps STARTING salaries, but after a few years in the workplace it's those with vision and ambition who win out.



    The data bears my statement out. Ivy-league grads make 15% more than their counterparts within the same industries on average at 14 years out and 39% more at 4 years out. So although the gap does narrow, it never disappears. It's not just about ambition - it's about being able to break into the highly competitive industries and top companies in the first place. After that you have to prove yourself, obviously, but most Ivy League grads are up to the task (our current POTUS notwithstanding) because the education and training really is top notch and grads are used to handling stress and succeeding in a high-competition environment.

    Also, the fact that starting salaries are much higher fresh out of school for Ivy League grads is not trivial. Higher starting salary is actually quite important, because earning and investing money at a young age tends to lead to more wealth in real terms down the road, because those investments have more time to accrue value. Viz, money invested at 25 is worth a lot more than money invested at 45.

  • ||

    I realized this morning that my comments above about the Texas grad probably don't come across too well - for those that don't live in Texas, that is what we do; UT grads call Aggies sheep fornicators and we call them dirty hippies. We then go about working together and playing golf on the weekends after graduation. Students from both schools typically come from the top 10% of urban high schools and most every student at both campuses has friends at the other. There are some real red-asses at both campuses that do truly hate the other.

    If you watch an A&M football game on television, you might get the impression that all the students are in the Corp of Cadets, but there are about 38,000 of the 40,000 who are not.

    Mike in Fort Worth

  • ||

    Grand Chalupa is doomed to wander the earth pitying PC fools, I fear.

  • VM||

    destijl

    yeah, but his dentistry skills are second to none. He singlehandedly rewrote the "Big Book of British Smiles"!

    (see the last 20 minutes of the pilot episode of Charlie's Angels (ca 1975) for reference)

  • atrevete||

    Mr. * , I would predict that those who graduated the "Top Three" had more money and business connections to begin with. Intelligence counts as well, which is why I put the conditions "extremely rich" and/or "have a scholarship".

    Carmela Soprano pushing and needling Meadow and AJ to get good grades so they can go to a "good college" comes to mind. All it did was make their lives miserable so she could pretend that the Sopranos got to where they were by their great "work ethic".

  • ||

    I would predict that those who graduated the "Top Three" had more money and business connections to begin with.



    On average yes. But there are plenty from poor, lower middle class, and middle class backgrounds as well. And they benefit from the connections they make, the strength of the alumni associations, and the prestige associated with the degree even more so than those who already have connections. You are arguing against your original statement here - those who have lower social and economic status stand to gain more from an Ivy League degree than those who already have wealth, status, and connections. And because of the large pool of need-based scholarships available to them, they will get that degree cheaper as well.

    Intelligence counts as well, which is why I put the conditions "extremely rich" and/or "have a scholarship".



    Almost everyone except the "extremely rich" gets some level of scholarship. Your conditions actually encompass the majority of the student bodies. My point, further, is that even without the scholarships, Ivies, particularly the Top Three, represent an excellent value for the money.

    Carmela Soprano pushing and needling Meadow and AJ to get good grades so they can go to a "good college" comes to mind. All it did was make their lives miserable so she could pretend that the Sopranos got to where they were by their great "work ethic".



    You'll forgive me if I don't find an anecdote from a fictional TV family particularly relevant to the present discussion.

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