New college ranking less prestigious

Throughout the years, there have been many different systems that rank the thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. The rankings that have stuck out most have been those similar to U.S. News, which compiles lists of America’s top universities and liberal arts colleges annually. While these rankings generally take a number of factors into account, the single greatest factor that comes into play is the selectivity of the college.

These ranking systems have had a great deal of impact on people’s college decisions and on their overall feelings about schools. While we may not like to admit it, almost all Colby students probably at least glanced at the U.S. News lists when applying and deciding on colleges. The impact that these rankings have is controversial, and many have tried to come up with alternative ranking systems that they feel make more sense.

One such publication that has created a new ranking system is The Economist, which a few weeks ago published their first-ever college ranking system. In an article published alongside the list explaining its rationale, they explain that one of the biggest criticisms of popular college ranking systems is that they are focused on the qualifications of students getting in (which leads to the selectivity), and not how much the students actually benefit from the college afterwards. They compare the qualification of students already entering the college to their financial success after graduating (taking into account how much the students tend to care about making money), and the list is made by ranking the differences between these “expected earnings” and “median earnings.” The top five on the list (in descending order) are Washington and Lee University, Babson College, Villanova University, Harvard University and Bentley University, not all colleges one might typically see at the top of a ranking.

As much as I love the reasoning behind this ranking system, I am unfortunately very skeptical as to its long-term importance. The way in which The Economist has thought this out is quite sensible ; it is definitely more useful to think of colleges based not on difficulty of entry but on long-term reward. In the beginning of the article, they illustrate the need for these rankings by citing a study that essentially claims that the only reason people going to top-ranked colleges statistically do better financially is because they already have higher intellect and work ethic to begin with; when people are accepted to these top schools but choose to turn them down, they still do just as well. I like that they felt the need to create a system taking this into account, so people actually know the benefit a college will give you, not the benefit you will give a college.

I would personally like to see them go a little bit farther with this, beyond the simple financial statistics. To do this would probably require polling, not just data, but it would be very interesting to see how people personally think their college has helped them achieve their professional goals, whether it be financial or otherwise. This would certainly require a great deal of work, but I would love to see a study conducted where this is taken into account.

But that is not the reason why I am skeptical of this system’s long-term importance. As the article says, people who do well at top colleges generally do well because they already have the ability and drive to do so. For people who are ambitious, going to a top college often is a metaphorical stepping stone to fulfill this ambition, whether it actually helps them or not. If an ambitious top high school student is applying to colleges, of course they want to go somewhere that will support them, but they also want to go somewhere that, just by school’s image and reputation, will recognize that they needed drive and ability to be there in the first place. A student like this would look at this recent ranking from The Economist and would not be encouraged further to choose Villanova over Harvard, they would generally still want to get into Harvard because that is what they feel they have worked toward.

These rankings could be helpful to an ambitious student who has maybe not done as well grade-wise in high school and wants to see a place where they can make up for what they feel they have lost. But these rankings will (unfortunately) not change the ambitions of people yearning to get into a top college or university.  Colby is ranked #128 (in the 90th percentile) on this list, far beyond Bates, ranked #228 (in the 82nd percentile), and Bowdoin, ranked #403 (in the 68th percentile). But as we all know, Bowdoin is ranked above Colby on the popular U.S. News ratings (currently at #4 in national liberal arts colleges, while Colby stands at #19). A Bowdoin student would probably look at The Economist’s ratings and want to diminish their importance, because that would diminish all that they worked for to get into an extremely selective school like Bowdoin. And let’s be honest, a Bowdoin student would probably still do well after college, and having a school like that on their resume over a school ranked lower on the list would not hurt them in the long run.

I honestly applaud The Economist for their ranking system, and think that it is actually much more informative than systems that revolve more around selectivity than anything else. The problem is, as long as these selective colleges remain selective, it probably isn’t going to change anything. If someone is a hardworking and ambitious student with their eyes on a selective school, this new list won’t do much to change their minds, and they will keep on looking at the U.S. News rankings for moral support.

Leave a Reply