College Rankings Should Not Rank Highly in Importance to Students


Janani Ravikumar
Staff Writer

U.S. News and World Report has provided college rankings for years based on a variety of factors, such as retention rates, faculty resources available, high school and college GPA statistics, SAT scores, financial resources, graduation rates, and alumni donation rates. While additional information, such as tuition and enrollment, is also provided in these rankings, it can be difficult to drill down into specific information relevant to parents and prospective students.

To remedy this, the federal government will start providing the typical income of alumni of colleges across the country, according to Washington Post. Through College Scorecard, a website backed by the Department of Education, families of prospective students can browse and compare colleges on graduation rates, cost of attendance after financial aid, and post-college earnings of students who received federal aid. It’s the same data you can easily find on the internet, but packaged neatly with a different focus.

Unfortunately, a lot of these statistics that prospective students and parents view — even those that College Scorecard will provide — are heavily skewed, according to former secretary of labor Robert Reich in an interview with Salon. Private, elite universities like the illustrious Ivy League perpetually rank at the top of college ranking lists, while public universities, many of which offer an education of comparable quality, rank significantly lower.

At the same time, graduates of prestigious private universities tend to gravitate toward careers that elevate them into the wealthiest class. There are significantly more graduates from public universities that gravitate toward careers in public service, thus reflecting less wealth and prestige back on their universities, according to Reich.
“Colleges especially favored by America’s wealthy are bound to excel on those criteria,” said Reich to Salon. “The elite pour money into them because these institutions have educated them and, they hope, will educate their offspring… And because these institutions have educated such a high proportion of America’s wealthy elite, that the elite looks with particular favor on graduates of these institutions in making hiring decisions.”

By taking the college rankings released by U.S. News and World Report so seriously, the current generation is perpetuating a history of inequality between universities. Considering how low the acceptance rates are to universities that rank within the top 10, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone but those afforded the best opportunities to reach those ideals. There are certainly exceptions to this, of course, but not very many.

When a deciding factor in college rankings is how much money alumni give back to the university, what are current students supposed to do? Hard work and determination can only take you so far in this business of education, especially when a school’s “brand name” can determine a student’s employment opportunities post-graduation. It’s demoralizing, both to prospective students, who more often than not are unable to reach the high standards of such prestigious universities, and to current students in lower ranked schools.

That isn’t to say that we students don’t get a kick out of seeing our school ranked high on that list — and as the third best UC, no less. Maybe it comes with having bought into it back when we first applied for college. Maybe it’s for the hope that prospective students will buy into it like we once did and want to come to our school after seeing it so high up there.

Either way, we are thrilled that our school is receiving the recognition it deserves.
But if you are trying to decide where you want to spend your money and the next four years of your life, you should not look exclusively to college rankings lists. Visiting the campus and meeting faculty and students can tell you more about the university then a bunch of hard statistics ever could. Your own intuition could prove to be the deciding factor in whether or not to enroll, no matter how prestigious the school looks on the outside. Trust yourself, more than the numbers.