Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gaming the ranking schemes

Over at the Huffington Post, Marty Kaplan writes about the kinds of corrosive influences of the annual ranking exercise by the biggest of them all: the US News:

Example: Many colleges have become slaves to SAT scores and high school GPAs - not because admissions officers think they're such reliable indicators of intelligence or achievement, but because U.S. News weights them so heavily. Despite lip service to diversity and individuality, it is more difficult than ever to make a successful case for admitting a dazzling but academically eccentric kid whose so-so numbers pull down the average and jeopardize a school's U.S. News ranking.

Example: In its formula, U.S. News uses the percentage of a class's alumni who give money to their college as a proxy for student satisfaction with their education. The actual size of a donation doesn't matter, nor the reason (football pride?) for their gift. A college that games this system -- say, offering graduating senior ten dollars, coupled with a request to "check this box, pledge two dollars a year to your alma mater, and for the next five years you'll be automatically enrolled in your alumni association" -- may not swell its endowment, but it could boost its ranking.


  1. Aurelie said...

    Small class sizes for the students mean better US News rankings but do not necessarily mean small class sizes for the professors - I dare to think a teacher gives better lectures when he just has to go through the same material once or twice in a day, even if the class is large. People believe that if the class is small the professor gets to know the students more but they do not think about the total number of students the professor has to deal with.
    Another funny thing about the SAT obsession: colleges love to boast about the always increasing SAT scores of the admitting freshmen because they think about SATs as a pie: more good scores for me, less good scores for you, higher rankings for me. The truth is, SAT scores have been increasing all over the nation, so it is hard to predict their influence on rankings.
    Finally, I don't think admitting one quirky student here and there (out of 1,000 admits) will crash the rankings... but the truth is, if the student does not paint a coherent picture of what he truly enjoys doing (he'd be forgiven for a C- in history if he is applying to a technology institute and has top grades in math), there are enough stellar applicants who can take his spot - this has nothing to do with the US News rankings. Just the law of supply and demand.
    I found the article interesting, though. Thanks for posting an excerpt!

  2. Anonymous said...

    The rankings however flawed is an indicator of "choice" available to students in America. It also forces univs/colleges to improve their standing. Now if because of the pressure of rankings, if only 50 out of 100 make a sincere effort and succeed to improve then it is a huge benefit to the student community.
    Btw here is another ranking of private universities and liberal arts colleges based on affordability and quality.