August 24, 2005

A high-minded new ranking.

Paul Caron draws attention to this ranking in Washington Monthly, which attempts to evaluate colleges from the perspective of what they give to society:
The first question we asked was, what does America need from its universities? From this starting point, we came up with three central criteria: Universities should be engines of social mobility, they should produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth, and they should inculcate and encourage an ethic of service. We designed our evaluation system accordingly.
This is nicely high-minded of them. But is this helpful? And is the methodology right?


Kathy Herrmann said...

Some sort of objective ranking is a start.

Another is ranking univesities on a per department or field of study basis. For example, I majored in geophysics in college and accidently landed at a great school for that field of study. Good academics and heavily recruited by oil companies. I probably received more and better job offers having graduated from Virginia Tech, my alma mater, than I would have had I graduated from Harvard with the same degree. Harvard just isn't a geoscience powerhouse.

jult52 said...

Why doesn't the Atlantic just be done with it and rank institutions of higher education according to how much they advance a left-wing agenda?

Donna B. said...

The methodology is as 'right' as that used in other rankings, but it's far from perfect.

I think it's useful because, taken with other rankings, it helps to provide a more complete picture. I also agree with roaring tiger that a per department assessment would be handy.

For example, no matter how interested someone were in giving to society, would they want to choose Texas A&M over UT Austin for an English degree?

Outlier said...

I have a problem with their regression analysis. They only measured the effect of one independent variable - the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants - against the dependent variable, graduation rate. I think their projected graduation rate seems awfully low, and I think it has something to do with the percentage of tuition costs covered by financial aid.

Students drop out of school because they can't afford it. If you have 50% of your students at college A on Pell Grants, where tuition is $4000/year and 50% of the students at college B on Pell Grants where tuition is $11,000/year, intuitively, they're not going to have the same graduation rate.

I think that may be one reason why so many California public schools are on the list - the in-state tuition is so cheap. This also helps private schools with large endowments that can afford to pay out financial awards to increase percentage of tuition paid.

In a way, I guess this answers their question - what school provides most social mobility by making easier to afford tuition - but if it's through cheap in-state tuition, it has nothing to do with the school itself. The tuition rates in California aren't set by UCLA or UC - Berkeley, it's the Board of Regents and the General Assembly.

At that point, it becomes more of a measurement of state legislative committments to higher education spending, not really any school-related measurement.

Joan said...

I would be happier about my alma mater ranking first on the national list if I didn't also agree with jult52. After all, that whole Larry Summers kerfuffle was set in motion by MIT professor Nancy Hopkins. I still haven't forgiven them for not dismissing her immediately.

So when are we going to get a ranking system that factors in how political correctness is directing the course of the school?

Jeff said...

Very nice, but what about the preservation and advancement of western culture, of the enlightenment, of AMERICAN culture? Perpetuating the culture that created and sustained American universities in the first place should be something of a priority, after all. Without that all you are left with is vocational schools and a degraded culture.

ploopusgirl said...

What is this refined, unique American culture you speak of, Jeff? And if said culture actually exists, why is it necessary to teach it to university students who have been living that "culture" for eighteen years? I aspire for my children to be forced to take American Culture courses and prolong their time at school rather than teaching them what they need to know for their chosen profession.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Yea Jeff, just what culture are you talking about, and what are you trying to force-feed the baby ploopuses, thus delaying their migration from the islands of Devry and Apex Tech by eighteen seasons.