Friday, August 27, 2004

Even universities hate ratings 

Or at least, so says OpinionJournal today.
Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton, who wrote this for USA Today in 2001: "Not only should we refuse to give lip service to this specious and oversimplified labeling of our institutions, we should resist labeling our students with numbers, too. There are insidious parallels between the bogus ranking of colleges and universities by U.S. News and the ranking of students by their SAT scores. "

Insidious, indeed. The academy is increasingly reluctant to acknowledge distinctions in merit. This plague of indecision is yielding larger numbers of co-valedictorians and co-salutatorians and often puts students in the dark about how they really stack up against their peers. Grade inflation hasn't helped. "We're all different" has somehow morphed, within the protective confines of the ivory tower, into "we're all equally good."
The editorial makes two good points. The second one is, why don't the universities come up something better? Well, they don't because the only value to ratings is when you can make meaningful cross-college comparisons, and nobody is going to do that from within the academy. The first point, however, is why students keep buying these guides when they aren't supposed to be any darn good? This sounds like an answer:
Critics love to note that the best place for a budding physicist may not be ideal for an artist. They're right, of course--but these aren't the kids plunking down their $9.95 for the U.S. News rankings. Most high-school seniors don't know what they want to do with their lives. They're often looking for something generic: the best place to go to stretch their minds and find their interests.
And for students who want a different kind of ranking, take a look at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Choosing the Right College.