Posted by: Louis Lavelle on August 14, 2008
Forbes magazine is taking on U.S. News in the rankings business. In a story out today, the magazine ranks 569 undergraduate institutions using a brand new methodology that’s unlike any other ranking methodology currently in use, and the results are, well, I’ll let you be the judge.
Let’s just say there are a lot of surprises. California Instute of Technology…beats Harvard? Wabash College….No. 12? Duke University….No. 80? University of Michigan…No. 161? University of Southern California…No. 300???
The methodology, developed by Richard Vedder (an economist at Ohio University) and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, might explain some of that. It relies on five components: listing of alumni in the 2008 Who’s Who in America (25%), student evaluations of professors from Ratemyprofessors.com (25%), four-year graduation rates (16.66%), enrollment adjusted numbers of students and faculty receiving nationally competitive awards (16.66%), average four-year accumulated student debt of those borrowing money (16.66%).
I applaude the effort, I really do, but where to begin? First, let's talk about how the schools were chosen for the ranking--the vast majority were plucked right out of U.S. News. I get the need to narrow the field, but why let U.S. News do the heavy lifting--why not determine your own criteria and apply that to the complete universe of say, 4-year undergraduate institutions in the U.S.? And what about Ratemyprofessors.com? To get on the site somebody has to actually add their professor's name to the list--which creates a bit of a self-selection problem, with opinions posted on the site reflecting mainly students who either love or hate their professors enough to comment. (I suspect a lot of the love--or hate--has to do with grades: easy As in some cases, undeserved Cs in others.) And accumulated student debt? I'm not even sure what this is supposed to measure. Yes, schools that offer generous financial aid grants will do well on this measure, but so will schools that only admit students from well-off families that don't need to borrow as much. And don't get me started on Who's Who. I don't think anyone considers inclusion in the massive volume to be a serious mark of career accomplishment--although I may be wrong about that.
But hey, that's just my 2 cents. What's everybody else think?