As consumers who look at these college ranking systems to compare institutions, we have to trust the colleges are submitting accurate data.

Do college ranking systems really measure quality?

As consumers who look at these ranking systems to compare institutions, we have to trust the colleges are submitting accurate data

Are college ranking systems legitimate? Do they accurately report data that can be trusted?  Do they actually measure the quality of the educational experience at these colleges? Some of the college ranking systems include: U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges Report, The Princeton Review, Forbes Magazine’s America’s Top Colleges, and Kiplinger’s Best College Values.

Is there a better way to rank colleges? Currently, for many of the college ranking systems the data is self-reported by the institution. This can obviously lead to possible errors, incorrect data being submitted, and universities fabricating data to improve their rankings. These are not simplistic systems, so universities are submitting data that many times comes from different units on campus which can also lead to errors.

As consumers who look at these ranking systems to compare institutions, we have to trust the colleges are submitting accurate data.  This, however, is not always the case. In 2018, eight colleges submitted incorrect data to U.S. News & World Report.

For all of these colleges, the errors would have impacted their overall rankings, which would have resulted in a lower ranking. In a specific case involving the business school of Temple University, officials from the university admitted that incorrect data were submitted intentionally and for several years for several programs. Have other colleges done this and gotten away with it?

Just recently, Columbia University submitted inaccurate data that saw them drop from second in the rankings to eighteenth. “Columbia University said that it relied on “outdated and/or incorrect methodologies” in submitting data to U.S. News & World Report for consideration in the publication’s 2021 college rankings,” according to recent stories.

So how many other universities are submitting inaccurate data? Are the rankings really that important? Should the rankings influence where students want to attend college? Do the rankings have anything to do with the quality of the education and the experience for the student? Ultimately, those are the questions we need to ask.

Do the rankings really measure quality of a college experience? Is there a better way to assess quality? Data from institutions will always need to be tallied, but what data is important and how should that data be tallied and disseminated? What might be some important data to include?

  1. Teacher to student ratio?
  2. Graduation rates.
  3. Placement rates after graduation?
  4. Services available to students on campus?
  5. Student feedback regarding academics, student support, campus climate, etc.
  6. Extracurricular opportunities.
  7. Facilities on campus to support students.
  8. Degrees available (majors and minors).

Are these the important data to include? Would parents and potential students agree that this is the important data to include?  Have these individuals ever been asked their opinion on this issue?  This might be something to investigate. What are students interested in when choosing a college? What factors are important to them? Also, what do parents think about these issues?

These are just a few things that could be considered when investigating the quality of an institution. There are many more. One of the most important factors would be student feedback, especially regarding perceptions and attitudes of their experiences on campus. How were students supported? Was there a student community? Were professors interested in students and student learning? Were internships available for students? Was service-learning important on campus? Were students involved in decision-making or was there input solicited and gathered? These aspects and many others would probably be important to students investigating a university to attend.

So, how do we measure the quality of a college?  Is it through the use of ranking systems or do we need to do something totally different and more meaningful?  Are we actually collecting the correct and important data and reporting it, or is the data we are collecting not really a measure of quality?  Should some other type of data be collected?  Maybe the data is already being collected, but the ranking systems are not requiring institutions to report it.  Those are the questions we need to investigate when considering the quality of an educational experience for students. 

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