Do university rankings matter?

Here’s a lengthy critique of Columbia’s methodology. This is strictly for representation.

Columbia and U.S. News

Students are poorly served by rankings. To be sure, they need information when applying to colleges, but rankings provide the wrong information. As many critics have observed, every student has distinctive needs, and what universities offer is far too complex to be projected to a single parameter. These observations may partly reflect the view that the goal of education should be self-discovery and self-fashioning as much as vocational training. Even those who dismiss this view as airy and impractical, however, must acknowledge that any ranking is a composite of factors, not all of which pertain to everyone. A prospective engineering student who chooses the 46th-ranked school over the 47th, for example, would be making a mistake if the advantage of the 46th school is its smaller average class sizes. For small average class sizes are typically the result of offering more upper-level courses in the arts and humanities, which our engineering student likely will not take at all.

When U.S. News emphasized selectivity, the elite universities were drawn into a selectivity arms race and drove their acceptance rates down to absurdly low levels. Now it emphasizes graduation rates instead, and it is not hard to foresee that these same universities will graduate more and more students whose records do not warrant it, just to keep graduation rates high. For the same reason, they will reject applicants who seem erratic, no matter how brilliant, in favor of those who are reliable, no matter how dull. We have seen how, as transfer students have remained invisible in the ranking, Columbia has fallen into the habit of accepting more and more transfer students and offering them inferior financial aid. Cause and effect are difficult to prove but easy to imagine.

The original report appeared here:

U.S. News Unranks Columbia University in 2022 Best Colleges Rankings

After learning about questions relating to Columbia’s submission, U.S. News Chief Data Strategist Robert Morse first contacted Columbia in March 2022 requesting Columbia substantiate data reported in its 2021 U.S. News statistical surveys on its counts of instructional full-time and part-time faculty, count of full-time faculty with a terminal degree, student-faculty ratio, undergraduate class size data, and educational expenditures data for the 2022 Best Colleges rankings. To date, Columbia has been unable to provide satisfactory responses to the information U.S. News requested. Therefore, today U.S. News moved the university to being “Unranked” in National Universities, meaning it no longer has a numerical rank in the 2022 National Universities, 2022 Best Value Schools, and 2022 Top Performers on Social Mobility because those rankings used data from the university’s statistical surveys.

If the sole purpose of “rankings” is to provide a mean of the scores and then rank them according to these scores, without auditing the “self-declared” data submissions, it should raise plenty of red-flags.

A little more on Forbes:

The Fallout Continues: U.S. News Pulls Columbia University From Its 2022 Rankings

“As announced on June 30 by Provost Mary C. Boyce, Columbia is conducting a review of our data collection and submissions process for the undergraduate survey. We have been clear with U.S. News and World Report that, while that review is underway, we will refrain from submitting undergraduate-related information.

This should be reflected for all other courses, isn’t it? Including the methodology for PhD courses too. Why is higher education in a terminal decline and in a crisis, then? Glitzy marketing won’t wash off their sins.

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