Change the rankings

| Senior Forum Editor

It was reported on Tuesday that a “senior administrator” at Claremont McKenna College inflated the school’s reported SAT averages in order to increase its placement in the US News and World Report college and university rankings, where Claremont McKenna is currently ranked as the ninth best liberal arts school. I believe that this scandal shows the need to change the generally accepted college ranking system, and introduce more factors for ranking.

We know that Wash. U. is ratings obsessed. That isn’t really new information for us. Our university does its best to get to the top of the rankings. But who can really blame them? The problem is that the rankings system allows schools to fudge the numbers a little bit, and try to work the formula.

US News and World Report ranks schools based on seven factors: undergraduate academic reputation (22.5 percent), graduation and retention rates (20 percent), faculty resources (20 percent), student selectivity (15 percent), financial resources (10 percent), graduation rate performances (7.5 percent), and alumni giving rate (5 percent).

The problem is that these are not good measurements of a school. Reputation is determined by an academic survey, which is entirely opinion-based. Retention generally has more to do with the happiness of the students rather than the competitiveness of the school, the alumni giving rate has nothing to do with how well the school performs, and graduation rate isn’t a good barometer of anything once you get to a certain graduation level for all students.

These factors don’t really tell me what a school is about, or how competitive it is, or whether it should really be ranked as the best in the country. What this tells me is that Wash. U. is ranked as one of the best because we have a great reputation, good retention rate and way more money than most other schools combined. We might be the best, but our ranking should be deserved because of our learning environment, because of how well our students do, and because we truly prepare people for the world, not because our endowment is larger than the GDP of a small country.

It is this system that drove that the “senior administrator” to falsify Claremont McKenna’s SAT scores? He knew that his university would gain in the rankings because the students’ performance on the SAT is one of the ways the school is judged. Obviously he should have been fired, but schools need to realize that the incentives for people to falsify their records are there, because that is how we make the rankings.

Rankings should be done without any data provided by the universities in question. They shouldn’t be able to have any say as to whether or not they are better than another school. There is plenty of independent data available that schools can’t falsify.

Secondly, the method of comparing undergraduate studies based on an entire school is a terrible way to do things. By the time undergraduates leave Wash. U., we must all have a major. We took the majority of our classes in a single department, and most likely didn’t take classes in 95 percent of the others.

Schools should be compared on the basis of departments, what they are best at and where they have the best research and performance, not some overall ranking.

I don’t believe that I benefit from Wash. U.’s amazing biology department, because I have never taken a natural science course here. Every university has subjects it is terrible at teaching, and some it is good at teaching. Those comparisons are ultimately much more important, because we are much more likely to be compared that way when we leave.

Undergraduate department rankings are out there. But they are hard to find, and rarely updated, and generally hard to understand. Graduate schools are compared by departments; there is no reason that we can’t expand that system to include undergraduate programs. I would find US News and World Report much more useful if it told me how well I would be trained as an economist or a mathematician by attending Wash. U.

I am not going to be compared to someone who is training to be a doctor at any point in my career. I am going to be compared to other students who came out of a similar department, or studied the same things that I did. We should change college rankings to reflect that. Sure, general rankings have their uses, but when I leave Wash. U., they won’t make a bit of difference.

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