The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

School ‘rankings’ may lead students astray

Rob Peters (The Inquirer)

I am sick of hearing, “What’s the highest ranked college in California (or the nation) in the major of … ?”    

Oy vey. It’s a question I don’t like answering.  My most-of-the-time rather calm, diaphragmatic breathing swells up like a stuck sippy cup.

In recent memory, we have US News and World Report to thank for capitalizing on the notion that colleges and universities need to be ranked, quantified, and reputation awarded accordingly.  

The public’s need and interest was there, and it’s understandable. Why wouldn’t you want to pick “the best” ranked school?  Why not secure class and status for your college-bound child?   

The approach has become popular with the large number of international students who apply to US higher education each year.

If they’re going to pay “top dollar” to attend university in the United States, why wouldn’t they “purchase” the top-rated institutions this country can offer?

Of course, there are differences among colleges in their organization, services, costs, real costs, strengths and overall quality.

The simple truth is this: college ranking systems are, almost implicitly, a slippery proposition at best.  

The information on institutions that is garnered, analyzed and spit out is often dated, irrelevant, or too much of a “moving target” to be an accurate predictor of quality, much less appropriateness for one’s goals.  

“Average” class size is merely that. Educational facilities, and access to those facilities, are near-impossible to compare evenly.

The number of prize-winning faculty on board only matters if they are in your major, your specific field, your division, and truly available for teaching rather than anything like consulting, research, publishing, etc.

In recent times, the marketing and public relations divisions of colleges realize that these college rankings translate into enrollment figures.

So, the temptation and pressure to massage information, unfortunately, is tempting.  

In fact, the college presidents of many of the high-ranking “winner” institutions have often asked the “raters” to trade in their charts and proclamations for a more helpful, nuanced approach.

Both parents and transfer students need to grasp a larger truth:  A college education isn’t merely a commodity.

Colleges aren’t in sports playoffs that “rank” teams by rounding off to the nearest tenth. Does anyone go around equitably “ranking” the best third grades in the country?

In the terse language of engineers and social scientists, would you simply run a MANOVA software program that deals with “multiple analysis of variables,” and project the pedigree your child will somehow “earn” at the end of four years?    

There are likely several schools that would be a great fit for any student, and just as many at which students could succeed on their own terms.


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School ‘rankings’ may lead students astray