It might seem like the easiest way to figure out which colleges and universities are good, or the best, is to just look at the college rankings.
The short answer is that is not a good idea.
In fact, it’s a TERRIBLE idea.
If you want to know why, read on.
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In previous posts, I covered why I was interested in reading Colleges that Change Lives, by Loren Pope and some basic differences between universities and colleges. This was also where I first started to find explanations behind the popular rankings of colleges and universities, under a section titled “Why you can (and should) ignore the rankings.”
Why you should ignore college* rankings
* First I would like to note that when you hear “college” rankings it often applies to both “colleges” and “universities,” without the distinction between “colleges” and “universities” that Pope outlined in her book.
Popular college rankings rank colleges based on the qualifications of incoming freshmen, not outgoing graduates
- “Publications make these comparisons…based on criteria dreamed up by their editors…Statistician measure mostly input factors — incoming students SAT scores and class ranks, selectivity, professors’ salaries…Judging the quality of a college by the grades and scores of the freshmen it admits. [But it’s] what happens during the stay is what counts.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
To say this made a lot of sense to me, that the important thing was what a university taught students while they were there – not the qualifications of its incoming freshman class – is an understatement.
College rankings go up when the rejection rate of applicants goes up.
One of the strangest things to me is that colleges are ranked based on how many students they reject.
- “Thanks to ranking systems that give high marks to schools for refusing admission to the majority of applicants, we’ve been taught that selectivity equals value or prestige or rigor.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
- Colleges…calculate [their acceptance] rate based on all of the students who sent in any part of the application. [Even if it wasn’t completed, because they want their acceptance rate to be low.]” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
Alternative college rankings
There are two rankings Pope asserts would be of more use, the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Collegiate Learning Assessment.
“NSSE and CLA don’t release their reports to the public, but if your prospective colleges participate…you can ask to see the results…” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
The National Survey of Student Engagement
“National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)… surveys freshmen and seniors at four-year colleges across the country to find out how often they participate in activities…such as studying continuing class discussions outside of class, receiving prompt feedback from professors, and using opportunities for collaboration with faculty.”Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
The Collegiate Learning Assessment.
The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) is a standardized test to assess learning of students compared to other colleges, although they do think they’re trying to test things like critical thinking.
More about what college rankings mean
Because the colleges in Colleges that Change Lives aren’t so concerned about their rankings
– “…admissions officers [at colleges in this book] won’t toss out your application if you have lower-than-desired test scores or you don’t fit their academic profile perfectly. They’re eager to know you and figure out if you’ll succeed at their college…” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
-”In short, you don’t have to be one of the jittery millions of students anxiously fattening resumes to impress some high-status school…” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
And there were some more thoughts on whether or not your university had a high ranking, in selectivity or sports, were important.
– “…at the National Bureau of Economic Research…conducted a long term study of 6,335 college graduates’ SAT scores and postgraduation income…Earning a degree from a college where students have higher SAT scores didn’t lead to higher income over time. “ Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
– “Remember: no matter where you enroll in college, you can buy tickets to the nearest Division I football game. You can’t buy tickets to a real education.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
Now that I had a clearer understanding of the differences between a “liberal arts college” and a “research university” and I understood the basis of college rankings, I was ready to consider that an education at a more personal liberal arts college might be better suited for my son who was about to graduate. I’ll talk about some limitations of a liberal arts education in my next post.
Other posts in this series about deciding whether a liberal arts college is right for you
- Consider a Liberal Arts College – how to choose a college part 1/5
- Difference between college and university – how to choose a college part 2/5
- College Rankings, the truth about what they really mean – how to choose a college part 3/5
- A liberal arts education, is it really the best? – how to choose a college part 4/5
- Why my son won’t attend a liberal arts college, engineering – how to choose a college Part 5/5