U.S. News & World Report's annual college rankings are out. Harvard beats out
Princeton for the top spot this time, with Yale in third: a slight reshuffling from years past, but not enough of
an upset to generate more than the usual reactions—grousing about the list's irrelevance, tediousness, and potential damage to the university system and, through it, society as a whole.
- Here It Comes Again It's "the day everyone in higher ed acts like they don't really care about," writes The Washington Post's Jenna Johnson. If you're aching to send the list to a friend, though, she suggests a few clever conversation starters. For example: "Can you believe they actually spelled Johns Hopkins correctly on the first try? That's amazing."
- 'Flip a Coin,' suggests Lynn O'Shaughnessy at BNet, to whether Princeton or Harvard gets the top spot. "Or perhaps the magazine could find a three-headed coin so Yale would also get a chance."
- 'To Be Fair,' writes David Gura for NPR, "U.S. News has compiled some new rankings," like the best schools for B students, the most diverse schools, etc.
- What Harvard Actually Does Do Best No school on this list, says 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre simply, "can claim that as a whole it it better at educating all of its students at a higher, better level than the rest." But he offers this as a more fair statement: "Harvard students are taught by a large number of worldwide experts on many of the subjects that draw students. Harvard students are more likely to become rich, famous, or wealthy--or to go on to be President."
- A Bigger Backlash MSNBC contributor Bill Briggs covers the hunger strike of an anonymous, unemployed law school graduate over the U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings. Briggs explains that the man believes the rankings have too much influence on school selections "and, eventually, law firm hires. ... law schools collaborate with the magazine which, Haines argues, skews the profession's already-brutal entry-level environment."
- Dispatches From the School That Doesn't Do Rankings That would be Reed College. In the November 2005 Atlantic, Reed president Colin Diver told of how he came from University of Pennsylvania to be Reed's president, and was won over by the no-U.S. News & World Report policy. He wrote of the absurdity of the rankings: the ways of gaming the system, the glossy fliers schools send out to advertise for the peer evaluations. He also wrote of how Reed, forgoing the rankings, had been punished by the report and yet thrived. "Over the past ten years the number of applicants has increased by 27 percent, and the quality of entering students, as indicated both by conventional SAT and GPA measures and by Reed's internal 'reader rating' system, has steadily increased." Some other good consequences:
Rewarding high retention and graduation rates encourages schools to focus on pleasing students rather than on pushing them. Pleasing students can mean superb educational programs precisely tailored to their needs; but it can also mean dumbing down graduation requirements, lessening educational rigor, inflating grades, and emphasizing nonacademic amenities. ... As a rankings holdout Reed is free to appoint talented young teacher-scholars, even if they are still completing their dissertations, without worrying about impairing the college's "proportion of professors with the highest degree in their fields" ... Unlike many of our rankings-sensitive peers, we feel no pressure to use part-time adjunct faculty or teaching assistants as an inexpensive but educationally dubious technique for even further increasing the percentage of small classes.