SEQUEIRA: Students should not rely too much on college ranking reports

Reform is necessary to ensure students are presented with truth

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Many students look to U.S. News as the premier college ranking tool.

As high-school seniors, there are far and few between that did not scan the U.S. News and World Report rankings, scouring every pixel of their computer screen to determine their choice for college. Those same high school seniors years later, once again typically flock to U.S. News and World Report for rankings on graduate schools for their desired career trajectory. Unfortunately, while perhaps good intentioned, the U.S. News and World Report rankings are a true debacle and should undergo a serious overhaul to prevent tainting student’s minds with subjective, obfuscated and sometimes blatantly erroneous academic hierarchies.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is it truly fair to give a ranking to a university? While some institutions have higher standardized test scores, grade point averages and lower acceptance percentages as compared to others, do schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton merit more consideration than other schools? College, like the professional world, should be about fit. As such, it is a severely flawed and obsolete practice to quantize schools because most students aspire to attend the highest rank, world renowned institutions. Unfortunately, that particular institution may not be where they gain the most knowledge, meet the most compatible individuals or prepare to enter the ever daunting real world. Enshrouding the college hierarchy in discrete rankings serves only to distort the naïve psyches of prospective students and, in some extreme cases, sets them up for inevitable failure.

Yet, it is foolish to abolish such rankings as they are necessitated by our society's desire for quantification, hierarchy and competition. The ‘rat race’ has perpetuated past the corporate world long ago and continues to impact academic rankings. Yes, most hate the rat race, but for many, it is what galvanizes them to put forth effort. With that being said, U.S. News’ poorly-run rankings must be revamped if they are to be relied upon as accurate and transparent comparisons between schools.

Firstly, U.S. News and World Report’s algorithm to select the hierarchy can do without certain parameters. One of them — the cost of tuition — is absolutely inhumane to include as a factor. Just because a school charges upwards of $50,000 per year for tuition does not, in any way, warrant it to be a higher ranked institution. Additionally, the rankings are heavily biased to “the opinions of those in a position to judge a school’s undergraduate academic excellence.”

According to U.S. News, this bureaucratic statement includes high-school counselors, college professors, deans and others involved in the process. However, what is concerning about the 25 percent contribution is that such opinions are weighted disproportionately in comparison to other quantifiable and more objective metrics. Critics have therefore postulated that this unnecessary devotion to individualized opinion turns the ranking system in a public relations contest, which does not translate to rankings whatsoever.

The U.S. News algorithm could also benefit from inclusion of more parameters that better reflect an institution’s standing amongst its fellow competitors. Specifically, there is a dearth of longitudinal analysis in the algorithm in that it does not track students beyond matriculation. What is a student from “X university’s” chance of getting a job after undergraduate studies? How does a student from “Y university” fare in the professional world? While certainly more taxing and perhaps more obscured, these are necessary metrics to consider to develop a holistic and accurate ranking system.

Most concerning is not an issue associated with U.S. News at all, but rather how schools react to rankings and the general relationship between the U.S. News rankings and schools. Many schools have been known to change their curricula, tuitions, professor to student ratios and matriculation rates to increase their ranking for U.S. News. While some parameters — like professor to student ratios — are a step in the right direction, changing parameters like matriculation rates and tuition is unnecessarily deleterious to applicants.

U.S. News has a responsibility to academic institutions and their corresponding applicants to ensure that their ranking and algorithm is as accurate as possible. Algorithms are intrinsically biased and, while an ideal one might never be achieved, it is certainly possible to improve and iterate to ensure that the rankings are reflective and contemporary.

Sean Sequeira is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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