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> College Rankings, yuuuuup
debator
post Aug 3 2011, 07:44 PM
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Forbes is out today ( http://www.forbes.com/top-colleges/list/ ), and US News will be coming out in a couple weeks. For obvious reasons (overrating CMC almost comically), Forbes is my favorite of the two. But I also think it has a better methodology than US News, which puts a huge emphasis on "peer assessment": the largest portion of its scoring comes from what deans and admissions officers at other schools, plus high school counselors think of it. This results in what might be called an east coast bias. US News' four top schools in the "National University" list are all Ivy League schools, and all but two of their top ten LACs are located on the east coast. Sure, those schools are well-regarded, but is that really what makes a school good? People's reactions when you tell them where you went?

By contrast, Forbes' biggest scoring category is graduates' earnings, which more accurately reflects reality: if your school is good, you can get a good job with your education. They also poll students to gauge satisfaction level, which I like, even though it's probably not very scientific. This does not, of course, reflect the only thing that makes a school good, as it leaves personal choice unaccounted for--a very good school could be good at making students who prefer non-profit work. But I think it's better than relying on reputation.

I'm sure eric will be along shortly to tell me why I'm wrong (or even better, why the concept of ranking schools is wrong), but in the meantime, what do you guys think? How should colleges by ranked?


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dizzyizzy
post Aug 3 2011, 08:07 PM
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OU! OU! OU! OU!

#1 in the most important ranking system. Hopefully, I'll be going there eventually...
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Widget!
post Aug 3 2011, 09:24 PM
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QUOTE (debator @ Aug 3 2011, 12:44 PM) *
Sure, those schools are well-regarded, but is that really what makes a school good? People's reactions when you tell them where you went?


If it works for what makes a school bad, I think it works the other way around. tongue.gif


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QUOTE (overly_critical_man @ Sep 19 2011, 11:04 AM) *
QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Sep 19 2011, 08:59 AM) *
Also, why are there serious posts in here when we could be talking about ass and bacon?


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Research Monkey
post Aug 3 2011, 09:51 PM
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I don't put much faith in these ratings because it's realistically not possible to create a metric that applies to people universally, and they just narrow things to one measure of how the average student at each of these universities does for themselves after attending that university, rather than measure how the same student might do at different universities and rank on that basis. That, I think, is why LACs can perform so well despite realistically having less breadth and depth in educational availability, even to the most advanced of students.

Obviously my personal experience here influences my views on this one, but the general population at my university is, as most of you are aware, the butt of many a joke. We actually do reasonably well for ourselves on these rankings (we're usually low-mid 100s), despite a lot of facts stacked against us that aren't examined during a brief glance at the rankings. An incredible 21% of ASU freshman don't return for their sophomore year. Only 27% of students graduate within four years, and only 55% graduate within six. By those numbers, our median student is admittedly very mediocre. The problem with ranking schools like this is that the quality of education that I personally receive is realistically no different from what I might receive anywhere else.

The environment around the school is sometimes annoying, but if I'm honest, I don't really have any interaction with kids in remedial algebra. Nor do any of my friends who are really academically interested. As I've said many times, I've been able to take a small class taught by an extremely influential Nobel laureate in my field of study, and in the spring, I'll be taking classes through our law school while an undergraduate. We have a number of successful research facilities that employ tons of motivated students that have a serious engineering (particularly bioengineering and EE, due to the industry presence) interest, and I also know students who have been involved in programs here like the large NASA grant we have for the school of Earth and space exploration. I could go on and on about all the people I know who have done very well for themselves at ASU, but I think my point is clear enough, and I'll leave it there.

Sure, I would have enjoyed going to any of the top 25 schools I got into, but if I'm honest, I don't think any of those schools would really have made a significant difference on my overall education.


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AK_WDB
post Aug 3 2011, 10:51 PM
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QUOTE (debator @ Aug 3 2011, 11:44 AM) *
They also poll students to gauge satisfaction level, which I like, even though it's probably not very scientific.

I wonder if this is why Dartmouth is ranked so low. People at Dartmouth love to complain about Dartmouth.
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beregond
post Aug 3 2011, 11:35 PM
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Forbes can suck it.
1. Berkeley is ranked 70.
2. UCLA is ranked higher than Berkeley.
When these are fixed, I will respect Forbes' ability to make a list.


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debator
post Aug 4 2011, 12:21 AM
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can you more constructively articulate why you think cal should be ranked higher?


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blondie13
post Aug 4 2011, 12:31 AM
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Yeah, I'm calling shenanigans on this...Lawrence ranks in the top 100 and UW Madison doesn't even crack that? That honestly makes no sense in my opinion. Madison is a lot more prestigious. The reason people from Wisconsin ever pick Lawrence over Madison is if they're going into music. I know it's a great school, but it just makes no sense to me. :/


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magicblueman
post Aug 4 2011, 12:34 AM
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Georgia Tech is 397th. Granted, my personal pride may be on the line here, but come on...


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beregond
post Aug 4 2011, 12:40 AM
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QUOTE (debator @ Aug 3 2011, 05:21 PM) *
can you more constructively articulate why you think cal should be ranked higher?

Because Cal is and has consistently been ranked as the top public university in the country. We have incredible research programs in nearly every field, almost all of our departments are ranked in the top 15 in the nation, and we're one of the very top schools in California, an incredibly rich state for higher education. We attract some of the very best faculty in the country, and we've got the greatest history of any public university west of the Mississippi. We have the best and the brightest of all the West, and a fair deal of the East's.


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debator
post Aug 4 2011, 01:00 AM
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This is my point. The prevailing wisdom--on here and at US News--is, "it's a good school because everyone says it's a good school." But what if everyone says it's great, and it's not? Beregond, your points (except the one about faculty, which we'll talk about in a moment) all pretty much boil down to: "it's well regarded, so it's good." Forbes isn't perfect by any means, but they try to use more pertinent data, rather than reputation, to determine which schools are good. I don't agree exactly with how they go about it, and there are some casualties of their flawed system (GT, UW, and Cal among them), but I like the idea that a good school is a good school, not a good name.

As for the faculty argument, it's true that Cal has some of the best academics in the country. But 1. that's just one consideration, and 2. it's not clear that a better faculty makes for a better school. You can get a better education from a dedicated but unpublished professor than a Nobel laureate who's unengaged or delegates his teaching task to TAs. I'm not saying that's what happens at Cal, but it certainly happens some places. Of course, some might argue that a "good school" isn't just one that provides a good education, but also produces good scholarship. I'd respond that, especially for college applicants, to whom rankings like these are marketed, the education of students should be the first priority. (At the same time, though, students who want to be academics probably get much, much more useful educations at big research schools than smaller LACs.)

I agree with Ian that you can get a good education pretty much anywhere if you apply yourself properly. But I don't think that argues against the existence of rankings entirely.


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AK_WDB
post Aug 4 2011, 01:55 AM
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QUOTE (debator @ Aug 3 2011, 05:00 PM) *
I agree with Ian that you can get a good education pretty much anywhere if you apply yourself properly.

And study the right subjects. I went to UAF for a while, which is (from what I understand) a great school for physics and biology. It was acceptable for math, and distinctly poor for economics.
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Jonesy
post Aug 4 2011, 05:45 AM
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We're #544! We're #544! Woohoo!

(BS list is BS)


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Jonesy, who is, of course, the measurement of all things manly on this site
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Research Monkey
post Aug 4 2011, 06:41 AM
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I wasn't able to see beyond page 1 before, but now that I see it, there's some serious shenanigans happening at Forbes.

102. Johns Hopkins University
113. Washington University in St. Louis
185. University of Texas - Austin
200. New York University

I started to see some problems. But then:

229. BYU-Idaho
282. BYU

...what the hell?

Now, this list gets bonus points for noting that ASU is better than U of A, but that's not enough to redeem it.


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blondie13
post Aug 4 2011, 02:28 PM
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Looking closer at the WI stuff on the list, this is smurf. There is no way in hell that Lawrence, Staint Norbert, Beloit, and Ripon should all rank above UW Madison. Even ranking Marquette above Madison is a stretch. And why the hell is MSOE almost 200 behind Carroll? I mean, I go to Carroll and I know it should be WAY below MSOE. I have no clue how Forbes comes up with this insanity...

This post has been edited by blondie13: Aug 4 2011, 02:28 PM


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eric...
post Aug 4 2011, 06:44 PM
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QUOTE (debator @ Aug 3 2011, 03:44 PM) *
I'm sure eric will be along shortly to tell me why I'm wrong (or even better, why the concept of ranking schools is wrong), but in the meantime, what do you guys think? How should colleges by ranked?


youre wrong because, while the forbes ranking is wonderful conceptually the data actually employed is, well... garbage.

before i go on, i will say that--at least on a fundamental level--i have no issues with college rankings. i have issues with bad rankings. i have issues with people who put way too much faith in the strict orderings provided by usnews. and i have issues with how the rankings are increasingly impacting institutional decision making. but with so many students not being in much of a position to mine for data themselves, having a resource that indicates that non-household names like claremont mckenna enroll strong students and have small classes and spend a lot of money on faculty is a good thing.

back to forbes, the ranking is terrible because the methodology is appalling. its a great conceptual exercise to vow to measure outputs. but when the 'best' metrics include salary data self-reported by a website few people use that excludes those with graduate degrees and only attracts individuals in certain sectors in the first place, you have a problem. (even worse, none of the data is controlled for cost of living, so it should come as no surprise that schools in california and the northeast corridor blow everyone else out of the water.) and using 'ratemyprofessor' to measure overall instructional quality? really? and 'whos who' to further measure alumni success? measuring average federal debt load without controlling for the wealth of a student body? or even acknowledging that federal debt loads are largely a function of how high a school wants them to be (is there any difference between a school asking you to pay 10k out of pocket and borrow 10k via stafford and perkins versus paying 15k out of pocket and borrowing only 5k via stafford?) and using loan default rates, with raw numbers that measure in the handful annually at places like cmc, and thus vary significantly based on the actions of one or two graduates a year? i mean, come on. the 'student awards' portion is largely a function of how many fulbright teaching fellowships a school can garner, which is a joke since said fellowships arent hard to get and thus the schools that get lots of them do so because they get lots of people to apply for them in the first place. hmm... whats left. the unweighted graduation and retention data is largely a function of student wealth and institutional grade inflation. the 'corporate officers' component is acceptable enough, but clearly measures success in only one career trajectory. all thats left after that is the predicted-vs-actual components, a whole 16% of the ranking. if done well, ill take those.

usnews isnt perfect either, especially with the gross misreporting of things like s/f ratios and sat ranges that is increasingly going on, but at the end of the day you end up with a good sense of what is actually being measured. you may not agree with it, but knowing that it is all about spending per student and enrolled student quality, with a slight modifier in the name of peer assessment (and while west coast lacs are hurt here, the damage is ultimately pretty small... as ones peer assesment needs to drop three tenths of a point to impact a schools final ranking by a point) has value. it doesnt differentiate between a school that is spending its money wisely and one thats not. or one where kids go to coast for four years versus one thats anything but. but, as forbes makes very clear, making these kinds of judgements nearly impossible with only the available data. so the question becomes: why try?

---

as an aside, when it comes to a place like berkeley one has to be careful in differentiating the overall quality of the institution (which is largely synonymous with faculty research quantity and quality in stem) from what these rankings are attempting to measure: namely, the overall quality of the institution for an UNDERGRADUATE. environments where faculty are hired and retained based entirely on their abilities to produce research are very different from environments where faculty are hired and retained based on their abilities to produce scholarship while being effective teachers and mentors. its the difference between a place like berkeley and a place like claremont mckenna... with a place like dartmouth, a research institution that does care a bit about teaching quality, situated somewhere in the middle of the two. now... this is not to say that berkeley doesnt have some amazing teacher-scholars; indeed, virtually anyone who could get a tenure track job there wouldnt consider taking a similar position at cmc... regardless of teaching ability. but this brings to the surface the important point that being a top scholar in and of itself does not seem sufficient when it comes to producing quality educational experience both inside and outside of the classroom. and thus it should not be surprising that a place like cmc, where the faculty ARE active scholars (the difference between selective, wealthy liberal arts colleges and non-selective, poor ones), have no graduate students to aid them (creating a strong incentive to garner undergraduate research assistance) AND are expected to be quality teachers in the classroom could be considered among the best places in the country to receive an undergraduate education, almost regardless of ultimate goals. (the big exception here is for students who are highly advanced in fields like math and would quickly exhaust the undergraduate course offerings anywhere.)

mind you, harvards arts and sciences curriculum committee agrees with me. theyve spent the last 10 years trying to figure out how they can provide an undergraduate education on par with williams while continuing to hire and retain faculty who dont care about teaching... though i must say i find it disconcerting that these very bright people have failed to crack the code. well, i guess the more likely explanation is that they dont want to be bothered to do so. and i cant blame them... the worlds best minds have better things to do than waste countless hours critiquing essays written by a class college freshmen.
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eric...
post Aug 4 2011, 06:46 PM
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...oh, and public schools get no help in this ranking (as they do via peer assessment with usnews) as its creator isnt much of a fan of public higher education. and by 'not much of a fan,' i mean he wants to eliminate it.
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Jonesy
post Aug 5 2011, 05:43 AM
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QUOTE (eric... @ Aug 4 2011, 01:46 PM) *
...oh, and public schools get no help in this ranking (as they do via peer assessment with usnews) as its creator isnt much of a fan of public higher education. and by 'not much of a fan,' i mean he wants to eliminate it.

What? O.o


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Jonesy, who is, of course, the measurement of all things manly on this site
QUOTE (zzzptm @ Nov 9 2009, 10:29 PM) *
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eric...
post Aug 5 2011, 01:40 PM
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QUOTE (Jonesy @ Aug 5 2011, 01:43 AM) *
QUOTE (eric... @ Aug 4 2011, 01:46 PM) *
...oh, and public schools get no help in this ranking (as they do via peer assessment with usnews) as its creator isnt much of a fan of public higher education. and by 'not much of a fan,' i mean he wants to eliminate it.

What? O.o


basic 'government subsidies are distorting the market' stuff. in his ideal world all government involvement would be eliminated, but as a compromise he has suggested that voucher programs (federal and state grants) be expanded based on both income and achievement. net result: greater numbers of low-achieving students would first enroll in low-cost community college programs (which they should) and four-year schools would have to compete more heavily for student dollars, resulting in more efficient, student-focused institutions (somewhat less administrative overhead and research in return for more student services and smaller classes).

http://centerforcollegeaffordability.org/

i tend to agree with some of his points. but i disagree on many of the larger ones as, to me, higher education is about more than getting students the best (starting) jobs possible for the lowest possible cost. cost constraint and value added are certainly important components of the calculus, but i suspect broad, liberal education has a significant, albeit difficult to measure, impact on american ingenuity and the social and cultural value of colleges as institutions is valuable in its own right, as well.
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post Aug 5 2011, 09:16 PM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Aug 4 2011, 01:41 AM) *
I wasn't able to see beyond page 1 before, but now that I see it, there's some serious shenanigans happening at Forbes.

102. Johns Hopkins University
113. Washington University in St. Louis
185. University of Texas - Austin
200. New York University

I started to see some problems. But then:

229. BYU-Idaho
282. BYU

...what the hell?

Now, this list gets bonus points for noting that ASU is better than U of A, but that's not enough to redeem it.


#91! yahoo.gif Bonus points for acknowledging the military academies too.

More seriously...I don't get any of those quoted here, not to even start on UW-Madison, the University of Michigan, Berkeley, or GT...

Wondering: does the income of students that enter a particular college and the amount of aid they get come into play? Seems to me that would help with attracting 'higher quality' (for the given value of quality) students that want to learn and maybe therefore professors that are interested in teaching those students.


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