On University Rankings

There is no right answer to how much weight a ranking system should give to these two competing values. It’s a matter of which educational model you value more—and here, once again, U.S. News makes its position clear. It gives twice as much weight to selectivity as it does to efficacy. It favors the Yale model over the Penn State model, which means that the Yales of the world will always succeed at the U.S. News rankings because the U.S. News system is designed to reward Yale-ness. By contrast, to the extent that Penn State succeeds at doing a better job of being Penn State—of attracting a diverse group of students and educating them capably—it will only do worse. Rankings are not benign. They enshrine very particular ideologies, and, at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de-facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of those factors. And why? Because a group of magazine analysts in an office building in Washington, D.C., decided twenty years ago to value selectivity over efficacy, to use proxies that scarcely relate to what they’re meant to be proxies for, and to pretend that they can compare a large, diverse, low-cost land-grant university in rural Pennsylvania with a small, expensive, private Jewish university on two campuses in Manhattan.

“The Order of Things: What College Rankings Really Tell Us,” The New Yorker, http://nyr.kr/uLGaUl