Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ranking the Rankings

Not All University Rankings Systems

Are Equal

(Our provost is a big fan of the Shanghai rankings.)

Richard Kahlenberg writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In recent days, U.S. News & World Report released its much-discussed rankings of U.S. colleges and universities, and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University declared its ranking of world universities. As my Innovations Blog colleague Richard Vedder noted recently, Forbes has its own rankings to compete with U.S. News, and Vedder (who helped Forbes come up with its methodology) argues that Forbes’s is better—that is, ranks higher.
My own favorite in the rankings game is The Washington Monthly, which today released the 2010 rankings of “What Can Colleges Do for the Country.” While other guides “help students and parents decide how to spend their tuition dollars wisely,” the Monthly says its goal is “to tell citizens and policy makers which colleges [are] spending their tax dollars wisely.” The Monthly ranks colleges and universities based on whether they promote social mobility; research, and service.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the intriguing findings of the Monthly’s social mobility ranking is that public universities systems where affirmative action by race has been banned—California, Florida, Michigan, and Washington—do particularly well on the social mobility front, perhaps because they can’t use race in admissions and therefore rely strongly on socioeconomic status instead.

While it is fashionable to bemoan rankings of all kinds, many are now recognizing that rankings should not be fought but improved upon. Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, told Wildavsky: “The reason rankings are popular is that they actually serve a purpose. ”Rankings, he says, “are basically reflecting the market’s desire for more information.

In the future, one hopes the proliferation of rankings will move us closer to the goal of providing students—and citizens—with the right kids of information.

[Actually, I think that the rankings, collectively, already provide a lot of useful information. For example: graduation rates and debt at graduation.]


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