Most prospective students place a great deal of importance on the ranking of universities during their application and decision process. However, an article in The Chronicle of Education (“Ranking of Research Universities May Harm More Than Nebraska”) looks at the dangers of relying too heavily on rankings.
The recent removal of the University of Nebraska from the Association of American Universities’ rankings list reveals that the criteria used to create these rankings are quite narrow.
The University of Nebraska feels that it was taken off the list after 102 years because, as Nebraska’s chancellor, Harvey Perlman, explains, “ [the university] makes a commitment to agricultural research and lacks a medical school.” These two facts do not score highly in the AAU’s ranking system, highlighting the problem with this system in general: no procedure exists through which universities can be rated by the strength of all their programs. Medical and engineering programs may be cash cows, but they should not affect the rankings of a university’s other programs.
The AAU’s rating system is not the first to be criticized. For many years people have passed judgment on U.S. News & World Report’s list, “America’s Best Colleges.” The Bush Administration even attempted to create a more accurate college rating system, but failed completely.
However, as J. Fredericks Volkwein, a retired professor of Education at Pennsylvania State University, noted, “We are a society that loves to rate and rank people and know who’s No. 1, [in fact] It’s almost the nature of our competitive capitalist system.” This same system is also what leads the membership list of the AAU to focus more on programs with high economic value—money is an important factor when it comes to rating American colleges.
Yet, the opposite kind of ranking system also comes with its own problems and imperfections. Moshe Kam, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, suggested creating rankings using different kinds of data, such as numbers of publications, citations, patents, and awards. Yet, these measurements would leave out any information about federal grant money, which is an important part of the AAU’s system.
The bottom line: There is no perfect ranking system. Any attempt at trying to quantify a college experience or program will always leave out an important part of what makes the college special or unique. Therefore, it is important to dig much deeper before choose a college or graduate program. Yes, use the data in the rankings, but take the actual rankings with a large grain of salt and a heavy dose of skepticism.
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