Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Once again, U.S. News ranks U.S. colleges


For the record, the U.S. News & World Report magazine released its annual college rankings last week, and the list features no real surprises.

  • Best national university: Princeton University
  • Best public university: University of California, Berkeley
  • Best public liberal arts college: US Naval Academy

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Although we need some sort of ranking system, the U.S. News rankings for colleges traditionally ignore factors that make the rankings relevant to seniors selecting a college. That’s because any ranking scheme or set of criteria has to simplify the sorting process by using a minimal set of criteria that can be applied equally to all colleges. In fact, not all colleges have strategies that address many of the factors used in the rankings.

Ultimately, seniors are diverse in terms of the goals they try to accomplish in their young lives. Just because one set of goals and ambitions, used by the magazine in developing these rankings, produces a conveniently sorted list, doesn’t mean I can point to even a single real senior for whom this list of criteria is the one that’s in play.

And if your goals aren’t the same as those established for the “typical” US senior by U.S. News, the order they came up with won’t have any value for you. Furthermore, university leaders may have sacrificed important goals trustees have established in the interest of getting a higher score on this or any ranking system. That makes this list worse than useless; it makes it dangerous. College isn’t a product—it’s a journey—and U.S. News & World Report isn’t a shareholder.

What you put into your education at any school is what you’re going to get out of it. Don’t discount financial needs as well, since a degree from a state college will cost less than a degree from the top schools on this list.

My own college decision, despite rejecting an acceptance offer at a school I had idealized as “the best school for music” since I was in middle school, has proved wise. The university I chose opened up new possibilities that have shaped my life ever since.

My advice about these lists, then, is that they’re probably irrelevant to most real seniors, but use them to learn about good schools and see if they’re possibly a fit for you. You may not have considered the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for instance, because you live in Utah and may only know the school has a famous football team, which has won fewer games in recent years.

The school is No 4 on the list of top public universities and offers a wide range of degree programs and courses of study. If you considered only the quality of the football team as an indicator of the quality of a university, you might not have even considered UM.

So in that sense, the list can be useful in informing you about programs you might not otherwise hear of, but use your own judgment about the school after you check it out and throw the rankings in the appropriate trash can. Go Blue!

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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