Higher Education

a mysterious use of US News & World Report

As we all know, this news magazine ranks American colleges and universities. Like many in higher education I am dubious of these rankings and concerned about the way these rankings can drive decision-making at our institutions. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the strange use my college has put its ranking to.

The college home page proclaims that we have been "ranked highly." Really? As we discover, we are tied for 70th among 100 Masters-granting institutions in the North. If you go to the magazine’s website, you’ll discover that means that we are a "third tier" institution, which is where we’ve always been, at least since I’ve been here. That means, nationally, we’re somewhere in the bottom half of institutions. However, perhaps we’ve moved up within that tier. Now, as I’ve already said, I don’t value these things much, but it seems like a strange thing to proclaim on your website, doesn’t it?

Wait, there’s more.

About half of our students are in the top quarter of their graduating class, the article notes. OK. As best as I can discover, less than half of high school grads go to college. So it makes sense that, as a national average, around half the college students are in the top 1/4 of their graduating class.

The national average for SAT is 1026. Our SAT/ACT 25th-75th percentile score is 980-1130, as the article continues. That skews a little higher than the national average score, which it should since not everyone who takes the SAT does well enough to go to college. Some of these test takers also go to community colleges.

Anyway, the statistics go on for the most part in this vein. Again, let me say that I don’t make much of these kinds of statistics. Our students are basically B students from NY state. They’re good people. They have dreams. They need and deserve an opportunity for postsecondary education, and we provide that. If we didn’t have students to serve, we wouldn’t exist. Some of our students are exceptional; some are less so. That’s just the way it goes. Same thing with the faculty. They’re good people, well-educated. Again, generally speaking, they are dedicated to the task at hand. They are focused on teaching. They conduct research as their workload demands. Some are truly exceptional; some are less so. That’s just the way it goes.

I know we are all supposed to be "special," and perhaps we are. But we can’t all be "above average." Every college can’t be "above average" either, though every college has particular qualities and programs that can make it the right fit for the right student or professor.

Last year we made Kiplinger’s list of best 100 educations for the money or something like that. That seems like a decent accomplishment and something worth proclaiming on the home page, which we did. This US News and World Report business however just mystifies me.

I guess it just goes to show how much this best-dressed list of higher ed has damaged the psyche of educators.

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