Do you believe college rankings are overvalued in elite college admissions? If so, you’re not alone. You see, few folks in higher education will espouse the merits of well-known college rankings, including and especially the most influential annual college ranking: US News & World Report‘s. Now, do we believe the US News & World Report college ranking is the gospel? Certainly not. The ranking is the flawed gospel according to the folks at US News who determine which factors should — and should not — influence a college’s annual standing. Do we believe that Columbia University should be ranked as highly as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — as it is in the latest US News ranking? No. But regardless of which variables we think should and shouldn’t be included, how they should be weighted, and our opinions on the ultimate order, unlike many folks in high education, we will not now nor ever diminish the importance of these rankings. After all, while admissions officers at our nation’s elite universities so often say they don’t care about the annual rankings, you bet they care. In fact, a dean of admissions at a top institution will not be in their job for long if their school’s ranking regularly slips. So of course they care!
But let’s be real. The notion that the US News ranking — which we’re the first to poke holes in — is essentially worthless is just plain wrong. In a piece out today for The National Review entitled “The Deceptive College-Rankings Game” by George Leef, he writes, “For many years, the conventional wisdom for college-bound students has been, ‘Go to the most prestigious school you can.’ And how do you tell which ones are more prestigious? You look at college rankings, of course. But are those rankings worth anything? In today’s Martin Center article, Walt Gardner of UCLA argues that college rankings are a game and students are being played…Gardner concludes: ‘In the final analysis, a lesser-known college can be a better choice if it offers a major in line with a student’s individual interests. Harvard, for example, has no undergraduate business degree, but many second-tier colleges do. With employers demanding evidence of an applicant’s skills, majoring in accounting at, say, the University of Mississippi provides a leg up over majoring in gender studies at one of the Ivies. With the cost of a bachelor’s degree soaring, and with no signs of that abating, it’s time to get real about rankings.'”
As Emma Gonzalez once famously shouted from atop her soapbox on gun control, “We call BS.” A degree from the University of Mississippi provides students a leg up over a degree from Harvard University? Oh please. We don’t care what a student majored in at Harvard. That student is always going to have a leg up on the job market over an accounting major from a public university that is not selective (there are indeed highly selective public universities but the University of Mississippi, with an admission rate of 88%, should not even be considered somewhat selective — sorry Ole Miss). The fact is, the rankings — as flawed as they may be — matter because graduates of Harvard will overwhelmingly enjoy an advantage on the job market over graduates of Ole Miss and the annual rankings cement which schools are and are not la crème de la crème.
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