OPINION: College rankings hurt students

(Savannah Thaemert | The Collegian)

Numbers rule our lives.

We are constantly putting numbers on everything, from the grades we make to amount of hours until the workday is over.

Numbers can be a good thing until we put too much weight on them, allowing them to rule every aspect of our lives.

Take, for example, college rankings. What do college rankings do? They take a few important numbers from schools to generate a list, ranking institutions of higher education from best to … well … not the best.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s CBS Money Watch article, “Why U.S. News’ college rankings hurt students,” hits the nail on the head with a list of five reasons college rankings should be ignored:

  • Rankings hurt low and middle-income students
  • Rankings ignore job prospects
  • Rankings don’t care about learning outcomes
  • U.S. News runs a beauty pageant
  • Rankings fuel ever greater college costs

You could go to the best school in the country, which for 2016 is Princeton University, according to the U.S. News and World Report on Education, but when you leave those schools, where are the jobs?

Can you walk away with some obscure liberal arts degree and actually find a job in your field?

In my opinion, that job or graduate school placement should add weight to the reasoning behind the methodology of ranking colleges, not ACT and SAT scores or general academic excellence.

Sure, you can measure and quantify academic excellence, but can you quantify excellence outside the classroom?

The costs associated with earning a four-year degree are astronomically high already, especially if you are paying out-of-state tuition, living expenses and fees for extracurriculars.

With greater costs, come even greater costs to students.

“Swank student unions, LEED-certified academic buildings and athletic shrines to the jocks and their fans are musts,” O’Shaughnessy said. “The rankings reward spending money, but they don’t penalize schools for charging too much and pushing students into greater debt than necessary.”

It is unfortunate to see so much money being spent on enclosing Bill Snyder Family Stadium, seeing videos of the new athletic training facilities with K-State saying that the facility is one of the best, while you can walk into an office in the basement of Anderson Hall and encounter close calls to hitting your head on pipes.

Where is the balance with money? Frankly, I don’t see one.

Data suggests that colleges are not only seeking out the best all-around students, but also making a greater effort to bring wealthy students to their schools to help maximize revenue. To do this, institutions are offering more aid awards to students with families that could afford to pay tuition in full, according to Stephen Burd’s VOCEDplus’ report, “Undermining Pell: How colleges compete for wealthy students and leave the low-income behind.”

“After all, it’s more profitable for schools to provide four scholarships of $5,000 each to induce affluent students who will be able to pay the balance than it is to provide a single $20,000 grant to one low-income student,” Burd said.

In general, if they continue to use the same methodology to rank colleges and broadcast them like news of the next royal baby being born then I believe college rankings will always be a waste of time and energy.