Rankings: reader beware
This posting is not about whether rankings are harmful or beneficial. Rather, it is about what to be aware of when reading a given ranking as the results of each one is based on its own combination of factors. Here are a few examples:
- Forbes does not rank the service academies. Like some other rankings, it does not separate large land-grant state universities from small undergraduate focused liberal arts colleges. Additionally, weight is given to how frequently a college’s alumni appear in Forbes own list of prominent individuals.
- U.S. News produces the most well-known ranking. It does separate smaller liberal arts colleges from larger universities. However, alumni giving (to be removed from this year onwards) carried weight, meaning colleges that provide quality education to students from lower income household would suffer. Starting this, the ranking will place stronger emphasis on the diversity of a college’s student body but it is not clear how the recent Supreme Court decision will affect future results.
- Niche.com takes student reviews into account. While it is important to know what the most important people on campus think, it is not difficult to see how objectively curating these reviews is more art than science.
Even when multiple rankings use the same factor (e.g. academic rigor), the interpretation can vary. Remember that regardless of publisher, rankings are opinions at their core.