The Validity of College Rankings
The publication of college rankings each year would draw increasing attention from interested people. Those people include reporters, college administrators and faculty, alumni, parents, and high school students. Together with other popular guidebooks, college rankings feature data on the overall universities and colleges in China. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet once stated that “what is in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” We can ask a similar question over the college rankings: what is in a number?
Some scholars warn that college rankings use objective measures to evaluate subjective considerations so that they can only tell a prospective college student a limited amount. In my opinion, we should take several rankings into consideration to evaluate a specific college’s place in the ranking, instead of only relying on one ranking.
Firstly, to decide whether college rankings give a college a fair shake, it is crucial to look at the methodology of the ranking system. While one system may conclude peer assessment, retention rate, faculty resources, student selectivity, and financial resources, another system may lay its emphasis on the number of famous alumni, the student evaluation of professors and the evaluation of college students. Accordingly, the same university may rank top in one publication of one ranking system, but be reduced to the average university category in another ranking system. Generally speaking, based on the same criteria, the rankings can objectively reflect the strength of a certain university, but it can not tell the whole story of a college. Besides, many universities are characterized by their unique disciplines. We can not simply reach conclusion that a music and drama university is worse than a technological university according to their places in the ranking system.
Secondly, college rankings are likely to be manipulated, which inevitably reduces their authority and trustability. As a president from a famous university revealed, one college ranking compiling organization once visited him and insinuated that if the president agreed to sponsor their organization, they could put the college in higher places of ranking. According to some news report, this phenomenon is not rare. Many universities have been invited to “corporate”with some ranking compiling organizations. Can we still believe that college rankings reflect the strength of some universities when some universities sponsor the compiling in exchange of higher places in the ranking?
In a word, college rankings, an important means to evaluate universities, are based on different methodologies. As one methodology only focuses on certain aspects of higher learning, we have to consult with several ranking systems and then we can find out the whole story of a university. We should also be cautious about the manipulation behind the scenes.