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Understanding U.S. College Rankings

U.S. educational researchers have long contended that there is no one simple way to evaluate and compare the quality of universities, particularly the ability to impart knowledge, motivate and challenge young generations.
By GPA Admin

Understanding U.S. College Rankings

U.S. educational researchers have long contended that there is no one simple way to evaluate and compare the quality of universities, particularly the ability to impart knowledge, motivate and challenge young generations.

This is the reason why university rankings in the U.S. - including the most well-known U.S. News & World Report - have often been viewed with a great deal of skepticism and none is considered “official”. However, college rankings are published annually and so many people are interested in them that students, parents and those who support them in the choice of school can’t quite ignore. So what are these rankings and how do they evaluate schools?

Rankings Are Based on Indirect Measures

U.S. News is the most widely known because it was established nearly 30 years ago and has been developed into a system consisting of many groups of rankings. Every year, U.S. News collects data from schools and classified into seven categories that are scored from 1 to 100: the reputation of the degree program (22.5%); graduation rate and first-year students transfer (20%); human resources (20%); selectivity (15%); financial resources (10%); percentage of graduates being employed (7.5% ); percentage of alumni making financial contribution (5%). Apart from grouping schools by region, U.S. News is not interested in whether the school is small or large, public or private, located in rural or urban areas ... They combine the metrics and calculate points for each category, combined the category points into a total point and then rank the schools from high to low. As a result, in a group such as "national university", a big school like Penn State University with 40,000 students can be classified in the same category Widener University with 7,000 students.

The difficulty that U.S. News and other rankings encountered is the selection of criteria to evaluate and compare schools. According to researchers, almost all the current criteria are only indirect. For example, one criterion that many consider quite reflective of the quality of a university is "student engagement." But this criterion is very difficult to measure. Another important criterion is peer assessment. Every year, school officials are invited by U.S. News to rate each other. Although the response rate quite high, one can’t help but wonder how valuable the rating is when someone has to do it for hundreds of college at once.

In addition, many rankings use criteria such as budget and investment to assess the quality of the school, although everyone knows pouring money into the students and facilities doesn’t always translate into higher quality for teaching and learning. In other words, to assess the overall quality of hundreds, even thousands of universities, at a time is very difficult and so is trying to compare them when there is no single standard method.

Rankings Are Not perfect, Why Still Use Them?

Perhaps the No. 1 reason that we should learn about college rankings in the U.S. is because many people are interested in them. Every year, at the time U.S. News launched its annual ranking, this site draws more than 10 million views. Ratings play a role in the decision-making process of students, school officials, families, and employers whether we like it or not. Universities set targets for leaders to improve the school's ranking while students and families can’t help being affected by the numbers, especially when it's the Top 10, Top 25...

For international students, ranking helps us evaluate and compare schools when we do not know each school intimately and filtering through information on the web is difficult and takes a long time. In each country, rankings have varying levels of importance to students and parents. In Vietnam, many parents tell us that they do not really care about ratings, as long as their children get into a good school that they like. Meanwhile, in China, rankings have become so important a factor that it has become very competitive for admission officers to promote their schools unless they are ranked 100 or higher.

Considering the rankings when choosing a school is not something we should shun, especially at the graduate level. But if you are only interested in rankings without considering whether the specific undergraduate program you are interested in is good or not would be a mistake. You should look at the rankings, but also focus on each program or individual aspects of a school such as class size, graduation rates, and teacher to student ratio... so as to avoid comparing apples to oranges.

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