Doug Cohen: Giving ranking groups a failing grade

The season of college rankings has returned.

Forbes Magazine published its third annual “America’s Top Colleges” list earlier this month, and GW continued its impressive rise, coming in as No. 151 of 650 schools on the survey. Last year, the University was ranked No. 291.

In the coming weeks, U.S. News and World Report will release its own set of rankings. Checking this report has become an annual tradition for students, parents and universities.

But after reviewing the process Forbes and U.S. News and World Report undergo to arrive at their rankings, it is clear these publications do not measure universities correctly.

Students and parents should stop obsessing over this flawed data, and there is no reason for the University to publicly comment on the rankings or attempt to tailor campus changes to satisfy rankings criteria. We should not endorse or talk up a rankings system that judges the institutes of higher education unfairly, as doing so will only hurt this institution.

Forbes seriously considers the content on ratemyprofessors.com in its assessment and decides 17.5 percent of its overall ratings from the website’s student-written reviews. A listing of successful graduates from the “Who’s Who in America” publication and online alumni-reported salaries comprise a combined 25 percent of the methodology.

Do we really believe that we should succumb to a ratings system that contains a small, selective set of data? Is this really one of the ranking systems that we seek to please?

Generally, these Forbes rankings appear to be removed from reality. Northeastern University in Boston, which is traditionally a five-year program, was ranked No. 534 because graduates do not graduate in four years. Forbes methodology includes 17.5 percent weight for high four-year graduation rates.

GW usually ranks lower in the U.S. News and World Report ranking because of the amount of adjunct faculty professors employed by the school. Just because a ranking system values a certain type of professor does not mean that we too should conform to that ideal.

Adjunct faculty has always been an integral part of the University due to the location of the school. A large portion of our faculty works for the government or other businesses and notable institutions throughout the city. This allows GW to have a dynamic faculty that has real-world experience they can bring to the classroom. While this may not fare well in the rankings, this attribute of the school fits our profile appropriately.

U.S. News and World Report ranking has come under scrutiny for other elements of its evaluation, too. In a May survey from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, which surveyed high school college counselors and college admissions officers, 89 percent of respondents said the U.S. News and World Report rankings “offer misleading conclusions about institutional quality.”

The alumni-giving criteria in the U.S. News and World Report is also a misleading set of data. Even 30 years ago, GW was largely a commuter school and its more successful alumni are only just beginning to donate in large sums to the University. It is not fair to judge GW on a set of data that is based largely on the composition of the school decades ago.

It is with these skewed approaches that publications like U.S. News and World Report coax colleges to try to conform to the criteria listed in the rankings.

Gaming strategies to appease the rankings affect all different aspects of universities. Schools often hire certain faculty or promote specific academic programs that will fare favorably in the rankings. Furthermore, colleges often use resources to market and invest in aspects that are heavily considered in these ranking methodologies, even though they might not have as much real impact on students.

If the public obsession with the rankings dies down, so will the culture of hysteria that surrounds it. This will allow the administration to continue to provide an education that best suits this unique student body, and not just that of some magazine.

Doug Cohen, a junior majoring in political science, is the Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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