Detrimental Effects of College Rankings

As a high school student, I know firsthand the pervasive presence of college in a student’s life. From volunteering to grades to hobbies, college is always in mind.

However, not any college works. Students aim for the nation’s best colleges, and to find the best, they turn to ranking systems—specifically the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings. Apparently, it doesn’t just function as a ranking system; it can dramatically influence the behavior of colleges that strive to top the rankings to garner more applicants. The results? Detrimental.

For instance, a key aspect U.S. News analyzes is the amount of money a college spends, whether on classes, teachers, or facilities. Less money spent therefore correlates to a lower ranking, encouraging colleges to spend recklessly. Indeed, benefits have arisen—many universities now contain top-notch research centers and professors. Yet, this reckless spending has not only added to the inefficiency of the college financial system but also to the already staggering tuition rate.

Another aspect is selectivity. The more selective a college is, such as requiring higher SAT scores and GPAs, the higher its ranking. What does this mean? Colleges will, once again, lavish money on ads to entice more applicants. A larger pool of applicants, however, does not result in a larger number of admissions; thus, the acceptance rate is lowered. Perhaps more drastic is due to higher standards, colleges that once catered to pools of lower standings will all now rush for the same elite 2400 SAT score students. Good for the elite, but there will be fewer options for students who aren’t, putting them at a severe disadvantage.

The aforementioned problems trace back to U.S. News’s college rankings, composed by literally, magazine editors. This calls into question: are these rankings even accurate? In many reported cases, colleges easily cheated the system, like in 2011 when employees at New York’s Iona College lied about test scores and other statistics.

Perhaps the better question is, is a ranking system necessary? Harvard University consistently outranks the University of Chicago, but is Harvard really indeed better? Surely, Harvard is superior to community colleges, but even comparing those two is inaccurate; for a student struggling with high school academics, Harvard would in fact be the worst choice. In essence, it’s all subjective.

Ultimately, the easiest way to fix the ranking’s overwhelming influence on colleges lies not in colleges but in applicants and their families. Colleges want to climb the ranks only because applicants follow the rankings. Unfortunately, many families have the incorrect notion that the only good college is a highly-ranked college. Society must rectify this notion, possibly through public campaigns or counselors; this will all allow for a more efficient system.

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One thought on “Detrimental Effects of College Rankings

  1. Hey great article first of all. This is very good insight into the college admission scramble at the start and end of senior year. But all in all, it’s natural for humans to rank. We do this with electronics, books, restaurants, even youtube videos. Moreover there isn’t a “right” ranking. While many might put MIT, Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard at the top, there are rankings to judge the most cost-efficient colleges and rank them according that classification. Others ranked base on the liberal arts criteria, others base it on biggest salary after graduation. Abolishing rankings wouldn’t do anything. The ranking of colleges will still be in the back of everyone’s mind, just how you might rank Arcadia High School over El Monte High School based on GPA and standardized test scores, the same will still be true even without rankings.

    Also I wanted to clear up some misconceptions:

    “Perhaps more drastic is due to higher standards, colleges that once catered to pools of lower standings will all now rush for the same elite 2400 SAT score students.”

    This is somewhat misleading. High ranking colleges know the SAT don’t really test a student’s “logical reasoning”, however it seems like the SAT’s are used just like your GPA, to look into your academic abilities. I remember at a CalTech internship, an admissions officer ranked the things they look for the most in applications. 1. Essays 2. Achievements/Activities 3. GPA 4. Standardized Test scores. As you can see, gpa and sat scores are secondary. A 2400 will give you a good chance at the elite schools, but alone this will not even be close to enough to get in. Your essays and achievements play a very large role in your admissions.

    “For instance, a key aspect U.S. News analyzes is the amount of money a college spends, whether on classes, teachers, or facilities. Less money spent therefore correlates to a lower ranking, encouraging colleges to spend recklessly.”
    So I think it is pretty safe to assume elite colleges do not spend money for no reason (research institutions, outreach programs, etc),.but that is just my insight. But I am more focused on the correlation that you drew the less money spend therefore correlates to a lower ranking. I’ve collected data for the top 20 colleges to show that correlation is pretty weak…I can even extend this data to top 40 schools if you so wish:

    https://app.box.com/s/r4k112sr71colru8un6iqythj1cqkxll

    Ultimately though I agree with your last statement: “Unfortunately, many families have the incorrect notion that the only good college is a highly-ranked college. Society must rectify this notion, possibly through public campaigns or counselors; this will all allow for a more efficient system.”

    Very insightful article!

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