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College Rankings - most useful?

13

Replies to: College Rankings - most useful?

  • privatebankerprivatebanker Registered User Posts: 2,120 Senior Member
    @MWolf contributions to the ruling class? That’s a good one.

    Usnwr changed methodology this year. Eliminated admission rates and added pell grant attendees and outcomes.

    My favorite ranking is the Bleacher Report weekly NFL Power rankings.
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 190 Junior Member
    @privatebanker - schools that are ranked high in USANews mostly educate the top 20%, and, in the process also provide them the social and economic opportunities which allow them to stay within the top 20%. They don't do much for anybody from the bottom 20%, or even the bottom 50%. So, yes, they mostly contribute to the ruling class.

    As for the USANews rankings, they change their methodology every year. That way they differ, and more people will pay to see them.

    A few specific problems with their "new" methodology:

    - "Graduation rate performance". This is a problematic factor, since it compares the actual graduating rate to the USANews's predicted graduation rate. This means that a school who graduated 95% while USANews's predicted a 93% rate would score lower than a school with a 55% graduation rate, which the USANews predicted would be 45%. The high a graduation rate a school has, the more likely it is that the score of the factor will be low. So this score is actually penalizing schools that regularly have high graduation rates.

    - "Faculty Resources" (20 percent of the score) are calculated wrong:

    A. To begin with, the number of small classes which a school offers do not indicate lower teaching load and thus higher levels of resources. It is pretty easy to beef up these numbers by increasing the number of small classes offered by increasing the teaching load of existing faculty. Without normalizing these numbers to take this into consideration, this factor is meaningless. It should be the proportion of small classes taught by faculty members, normalized by their teaching load. This should be further normalized by the percent of their job which is teaching. At research university, 45% of the job is teaching, whereas at a four-year undergraduate college, it can be anywhere from 60% to 90%. So a teaching load of 2/2 is the "normal" for a research university, with any higher load being considered overly heavy, while, for a teaching only college, it can be 4/4 or higher without it being considered a heavy teaching load.

    Also what does "class size" mean? I TAed for a intro bio class which had 1,200 students in it. However, each of my lab sections was 16-18 students. So, what was the class size? The size of the lecture? The size pf the lab/discussion section? Also, optimal class size is not always the smallest class. Some classes are best taught in groups of 15, while, for others, it is best to have 40 students. It is a somewhat crude method of calculation of much of anything.

    B. Faculty pay - should be median pay, not average, since academic salaries are always strongly right skewed.

    C. Proportion "Full Time" faculty should be replaced with the proportion of faculty who are tenured or on tenure-track. And, for faculty:student ratio, only people whose job description is "faculty" should be considered. Many big schools count graduate teaching assistants as "faculty".

    - "Expert Opinion" (20%) is totally wrong.

    A. To begin with, "presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions" are NOT " top academics", especially since they are not academics at all. They are administrators. They do not teach, they do not advise, nor do they do research. Many college presidents do not even have a graduate degree, and have never held an academic position in their lives. The number who come from business or politics is staggering. This means that they more often than not, are not evaluating schools' quality as institutions of higher education or of research, but rather as "businesses" in which things like "brand loyalty", "costumer satisfaction", and "profitability" are the most important indicators of quality.

    B. How does "school counselor assessment" actually measure anything, since counselors generally take their information from are rankings like USANews? This is a circular ranking - counselors rank a school high because USANews ranks it high, which it does because the counselors rate it high, etc.

    To be totally honest, though, it has improved since they removed the "academic reputation" as the factor with the highest weighting in their rankings.

    An enormlous flaw in the whole idea of a single unified ranking system is that there is no clear evidence that many of the criteria that it uses to rank schools have any real correlation with the quality of an education that a school provides. For a student who wants to study agriculture, Harvard is not the best school, nor is Georgia Tech the best place for a degree in fine arts. Like IQ, it is an attempt to describe something very complex as a single number.


  • privatebankerprivatebanker Registered User Posts: 2,120 Senior Member
    edited January 7
    I don’t disagree. But boiling it down to the statement that it best judges on contributions to the ruling class, does in fact, “attempt to describe something complex into a single” throw away line.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 72,936 Senior Member
    MWolf wrote:
    - "Graduation rate performance". This is a problematic factor, since it compares the actual graduating rate to the USANews's predicted graduation rate. This means that a school who graduated 95% while USANews's predicted a 93% rate would score lower than a school with a 55% graduation rate, which the USANews predicted would be 45%. The high a graduation rate a school has, the more likely it is that the score of the factor will be low. So this score is actually penalizing schools that regularly have high graduation rates.

    However, it is still much lower weighted in USNWR than raw graduation rate, which is mostly a proxy for admission selectivity, with some financial component (more wealthy students and better FA for the rest reduces financial drop outs).

    In terms of class size, some schools have gamed that part of the rankings by capping sizes at threshold numbers of 19, 29, 39, 49.
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 190 Junior Member
    The truth is that I do not think that any "global" rankings are useful for prospective students, even if they fixed every one of the flaw that I indicated. Students are looking for the college which is best for them, and rankings are just a distraction.

    How many kids have posted on CC that their dream was "to go to Harvard", without even knowing what they wanted to study or what they wanted to do in life? How many kids who had a better idea and wanted to study engineering but were applying to schools which did not fit them by way of interests, simply because these schools were more highly ranked?

    I think that, rather than look at rankings, potential students should look for good college search tools, which at least try to match a school to a student's interests and stats. Rankings like those that Niche attempts have some utility. Things like "best for LGBTQ students", or even "best food" or "best dorms" will tell students something that would help them better that knowing that a school is the "best national university", based on research productivity.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 72,936 Senior Member
    MWolf wrote:
    How many kids have posted on CC that their dream was "to go to Harvard", without even knowing what they wanted to study or what they wanted to do in life?

    For many students and parents, "fit" appears to be defined mainly as prestige.
  • citymama9citymama9 Registered User Posts: 2,466 Senior Member
    I liked Quants and Poets for undergraduate business programs
  • Materof2Materof2 Registered User Posts: 232 Junior Member
    We bought a wonderful book on Amazon, that I believe was recommended here.

    The Best 382 Colleges, 2018 Edition (College Admissions Guides)
    Princeton Review
    Sold by: Amazon.com Services, Inc
    $16.99

    The format was wonderful. Every college had a two-page spread, “butterfly style.” One side had the Princeton review info like stats and costs and what the college is known for, etc. the opposite page was from a student’s perspective, such as campus life, professor accessibility, etc.

    I can’t remember when the 2019 edition comes out. If I remember correctly, it’s around July/August.
  • jmnva06jmnva06 Registered User Posts: 658 Member
    The book we used was Colleges That Change Lives
  • SJ2727SJ2727 Registered User Posts: 612 Member
    I got given an older copy of the Princeton review by a neighbor. Maybe 5 years old? It seemed to be basically marketing stuff to me. Nothing critical said about any of the colleges I looked up in it..
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 190 Junior Member
    @Materof2 The Princeton Review online college search function makes it easier to search for colleges with specific features of student life. We didn't use it, because we have different sources for this info, but it seems to be very useful for getting all sorts of information as to what it is like to be a student at different colleges, based on student opinions.
  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU Posts: 12,196 Forum Champion
    Kiplingers is good for "best value" schools
  • privatebankerprivatebanker Registered User Posts: 2,120 Senior Member
    edited January 9
    The rankings can be helpful sometimes exposing a national audience to lesser known opportunities. The jockeying for position among the top 50 schools or top ten is somewhat meaningless.

    But in some cases it can help. For instance usnwr grad school rankings for computer science and AI. Umass Amherst is #20 tied with Rice and #11 for AI. And it can be nearly impossible to get a top local student to attend for ug. And nationally who would know. For that sort of thing it can help broaden some narrower viewpoints.
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 190 Junior Member
    For graduate schools, phds.org was always great, since you could decide what criteria to use, from number of faculty who advise graduate students, to funding per student, to number of low income students, and others, and how much weight to give to this criterion. So you could find which programs is the best for you, rather than the best according to some general rankings that may or may not tell you what you want to know.
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