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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ranking season is upon us

The college ranking issue of US News & World report is arriving at bookstores this week, set to hit the newsstands on Friday. Of course, a few back room types have swiped copies and posted the rankings online.

To coincide with this extremely important event (sarcasm), media outlets are full of stories about college rankings and admission. There's the "Who Needs Harvard?" article in August 13th's issue of Time, which, in a nutshell, says what so many already know: the college search is about fit. Just this weekend, UVA and 24 others were deemed the "new ivies" by Newsweek and Kaplan (hmm...Kaplan in the college ranking business). Interesting, since the term "public ivy" has been used for years to describe this place. The same publication came up with the top 100 universities in the entire world (UVA is #80).

The merits of US News' methodology are examined in many, many places on the web, so I won't bother explaining my reluctance to put much weight on the number they assign us (#24 this year). Out of curiosity, though, I looked at the method used to determine Newsweek/Kaplan's world ranking and found it pretty interesting.
Fifty percent of the score came from equal parts of: the number of highly-cited researchers in various academic fields, the number of articles published in Nature and Science, and the number of articles listed in the ISI Social Sciences and Arts & Humanities indices

40 percent of the score came from equal parts of: the percentage of international faculty, the percentage of international students, citations per faculty member (using ISI data), and the ratio of faculty to students.

The final 10 percent came from library holdings (number of volumes).
There's no mention of student satisfaction, resources/support services for students (especially international students), study abroad programs, popularity of foreign language or cultural study, or placement in graduate/professional school. Maybe it's silly of me to expect more student info than a faculty:student ratio in ranking methodologies.

Among all the articles, one jumped out at me as putting things in perspective. Looking at the colleges where the CEOs of the Fortune 50 companies went to school, the message is clear. Success is not a function of your alma mater.

I know better than to hope people will ignore the rankings. I hope, though, that people will put things in perspective. When I was 18, you could have put me in a Harvard classroom (oh wait...I was in one for a high school program), but I wouldn't have learned. It didn't feel right. In a similar (but newer) chair, not too many miles away, I was happy, engaged and learning.