April 7, 2007
By Steven Roy Goodman
By agreeing to tie part of Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s bonus to its U.S. News ranking, the Arizona Board of Regents demonstrated an understanding of why students, parents and schools need college rankings.
Rankings organize our world by helping us focus on what is most important to us at any given time. A student interested in studying biology should be able to easily compare university biology departments. Similarly, college admissions committees ought to have some ranking system to evaluate prospective students.
If a student doesn’t know where he ranks academically, how is he supposed to know whether it is a good idea to apply to one college over another? For parents, knowing that a college is more of a party school or is more focused on library resources is valuable information.
Without honest third-party comparisons, it is hard to be certain that universities are providing accurate information to the outside world. The temptation to stretch the numbers is great.
Over my 18-year counseling career, I have been on dozens of campuses that hang banners from student centers proudly announcing top 10 rankings of academic departments and top 20 sports teams. Admissions recruiters regularly cite favorable statistics and lists in the hope that I will share the positive rankings with my families.
The American public needs hard data to make meaningful comparisons of educational institutions. This is where rankings come in. By having to provide information to newspapers, magazines and government regulators, colleges can be kept relatively honest. Rankings enable students and families to evaluate colleges just like colleges use rankings to evaluate applicants. It is in this light that ASU is No. 1.
The writer is an educational consultant who advises college-bound students and their families.