August 14, 2008

Forbes challenges U.S. News in the college ranking game.

Nothing on law schools yet, but here's Forbes calculation of America's Best Colleges, done with Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity:
CCAP's methodology attempts to put itself in a student's shoes. How good will my professors be? Will the school help me achieve notable career success? If I have to borrow to pay for college, how deeply will I go into debt? What are the chances I will graduate in four years? Are students and faculty recognized nationally, or even globally?
Great questions! I wonder how they answer them....
To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP (mostly college students themselves) gathered data from a variety of sources. They based 25% of the rankings on 7 million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site
Huh? They relied on RateMyProfessors?! That's utterly unscientific. Okay, everybody, head over to RateMyProfessors and game the system. Don't you want your school's rating to go up? Instead of going there to slam the teacher who made you read too much, failed to amuse you sufficiently, and gave you a bad grade, it's time to pad the ratings of your school's teachers so that you can improve your credentials.

That's if anyone cares about the Forbes ranking... which they shouldn't, if it's based on idiotic data.
Another 25% depends on how many of the school's alumni, adjusted for enrollment, are listed among the notable people in Who's Who in America.
Who's Who in America?! What's the methodology of inclusion in Who's Who in America?

Who's Who in America? A better question is: Who cares about the Forbes college ranking? Other than the folks at Wabash College and Centre College, 12th and 13th on the list.

And, yeah, I'm irked that they completely disrespected the University of Wisconsin—Madison — at 335th.


Meade said...

335th, huh?

Hmm... Nothing personal, dear Althouse, but I think I'll look for a tenured professor at somewhere like, oh, say Wabash College to pity-marry me. But thanks all the same. You'll find someone, I'm sure you will. You're smart (considering your school's ranking), pretty, and you have a nice personality. There are a lot of great fellas out there. Good luck.

Meade said...

BTW, we can still be friends. And when I told you were an old soul? I wasn't kidding.

I'll always remember with warm fondness that time with the cold egg salad sandwich. You blew my mind.

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bissage said...

Forbes ranks Princeton number one and Princeton has a Forbes College.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm . . .

*strokes chin*

corporate law drudge said...

and...Steve Forbes went to ....PRINCETON!

rhhardin said...

My own alma mater has gone from accept-one-in-ten high standards to acceptance-from-one-in-ten in only 30 years, no matter what the ratings say.

Ratings aren't the problem.

dr kill said...

Hahahaha, get this:

A Deserved Source of Pride

Individuals whose accomplishments make them sources of reference interest have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to make their professional, civic, and personal data available, as well as revising it periodically to assure its accuracy. Inclusion in a Marquis Who's Who publication not only benefits the research community, but provides listees with a lasting reminder of their achievements and a deserved source of pride.


That stupid ranking is really taken from Birkenstock USA's list of highest grossing outlets for the hairy-legged-pseudo-hippie girl. The responsible and proud hippie girl.

Give me a head-banging Big 10 school anyday. Save that serious shit for graduation.

LutherM said...

WAHOOS beat BADGERS in the rankings - something they clearly couldn't do in football.
Ann, you wrote "Who cares about the Forbe's college ranking?"
ASIDE FROM THE MISPLACED APOSTROPHE, " The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Ron said...

and do they include the number and quality of bloggers on the faculty? I'll bet not! How else would I learn Indefatigable Cruelty, er Impermeable Hegemony, er Curious Strength, (no,wait that's Professor Altoid!) without this daily blahblahblah that goes on here, and only here?

That we have to endure this nonsense is the surest sign that Harley-riding Malcolm Forbes is truly dead...or perhaps just Ghost Rider!

Meade said...

Ron rules!

Ann Althouse said...

Extra apostrophes extirpated.

Roman said...

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, comes in just ahead at 328th, both of us behind such notables as the University of Puget Sound, the University of Scranton, and the Merchant Marine Academy.
I can't wait for some law school rankings. Maybe we'll be out-ranked by College of Charleston and Nashville School of Law!

MadisonMan said...

Don't you have to pay to be in Who's Who? Why would anyone do that?

Ron said...

Cheer up, are also a #161st ranked Wolverine! You only work for the #335th Badgers!

hmmm... a variant on Kirk's "I'm from Iowa, I only work in outer space" line from Star Trek IV, perhaps...

ricpic said...

The only college worth a damn in the whole damned country is Hillsdale College.

Ann Althouse said...

I consider email from Who's Who to be spam? Who responds to that?

downtownlad said...

The real ranking is determined by selectivity, but nobody wants to admit that. But students know what the best school is. But I guess journalists think it would be boring to say that Harvard is #1 for the 302nd straight year in a row, since it toppled William and Mary out of the top spot.

wanderlust747 said...

uc berkeley at 70-something? as if!

Matthias said...

You think University of Wisconsin—Madison got dissed? Georgia Tech is ranked ... (wait for it)... 501! One of the best engineering schools in the country.

My theory is that this is because Georgia Tech students hate their professors. GT still has a "beat them until they learn" policy and professors that aren't afraid to give bad marks... median GPA was 2.86 vs. Princeton's 3.36.

But I went to grad school at Tech and almost everyone who got into the grad programs there graduated from one of the top 15 schools on this list. Forbes would have me believe that graduates of top tier schools are falling over themselves to continue their education at a barrel scraper.


Benton C. Glaze said...

I agree that the inclusion of RateMyProfessor data invalidates the entire ranking system. As an example of why it's just an awful idea, I am a current college student, and as a joke, someone has entered me into the RateMyProffessor system as a professor of English as a Second Language, and there are four or five reviews of my "teaching style" and the "material that I cover". It's a terrible system on which to rank schools, in full or in part.

froggyprager said...

While I think this system seems flawed, the US News one has many problems as well. I am sure the adm. at my alma matter, Emory Unv. are fuming at their 82 ranking since they have spent years working the US News system to get in the top 25.

Here is a theory similar to that of Matthias, maybe part of the reason that UW is ranked low is that the students have strong opinions and are smart and use a system like RateYourProfessor to slam bad profs and students at other schools are a bit nicer.

Other flaws with this system is the debt factor. It considers the average amount of debt among those who borrow for school. If many students pay get lots of financial aid and don't need to borrow, that does not help the ranking.

Althouse, I agree that we should not just hire teachers who are fun and entertaining that students love but we should not hire profs who may be well respected in their fields and public a lot but are lousy teachers.

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe bad ratings of professors simply reflects anti-authoritarian feistiness. I note the military academies do really well in these rankings.

MadisonMan said...

Try getting a degree in Meteorology at Princeton, or California Institute of Technology. Highly ranked (typoed as 'tanked' the first time) schools, but they can't teach everything. That's the problem with the rankings. There should be rankings for people who want to be chemical engineers. Or poets. Or Jazz musicians. Or Investment bankers.

For a focussed high schooler who knows what they want to study, the best course of action is to contact a professor in the field, ask what schools are good, and apply to those schools, ignoring the rankings. If there's one in your state, go there -- it's cheaper.

Andy said...

While I'm sure that the inclusion of has annoyed the heck out of college professors everywhere and while I agree that it's method of gathering information about professors is highly unscientific I would have to point out the mere fact that such a website exists points to a horrible failure on the part of educational institutions: giving the consumers information about the product they are purchasing.

I am currently sitting on the backside of a graduate level college class I squeaked through (as opposed to my normal B+ to A- performance) and I credit the hostile, bitter and utterly unhelpful professor 100% with the difference. As a student I have no recourse when a college appoints a bad teacher, tenures him and lets him serve as the public face of the product the students have paid for.

RateMyProfessors exists because colleges don't want to deal with the reality that some of their employees aren't good teachers. Students pay for the service and if the service sucks that should be reflected in some way to encourage colleges to deal with their shortcomings or at least warn others that the investment they are making might not be worth what they are paying.

Teacher's Unions are pretty unhappy about being held against a basic standard too but that does not mean that - as a consumer - we should have rights to know what level of service is being provided.

Kurt said...

Well, my undergrad alma mater only ranked #127 on the Forbes list, despite the fact that it was #1 on a very different list published last week--for the highest median salary after 10-20 years for graduates with just a bachelor's degree. Now while income is no indicator of quality or value, either, it does suggest that my fellow alumni have the kinds of skills, ability, and intelligence that the marketplace appreciates, and that isn't reflected at all by these ratings.

mike said...

So will underpaid professors be glad to hear that there's now a so the sports guys (and a few gals) making the big bucks can be subjected to the same scientific analysis?

Palladian said...

"There should be rankings for people who want to be chemical engineers. Or poets. Or Jazz musicians. Or Investment bankers."

Yes, I noticed specialized colleges and schools aren't even on this list. No art schools. No Julliard.

Lame. Weak. Forbes should stick to their little lists of who has the shiniest private jets or who has the biggest, fattest uncut portfolio or whatever it is they do.

Karen said...

We have just completed several years traveling the North East doing the visiting/researching/worrying needed to get two offspring into college.

We sought schools that would offer the best career opportunities whether by alumni network, prescient faculty, research opportunities, etc.

Surprisingly we came to the same conlusion as Forbes with respect to two colleges. Despite being accepted to Ivies, our daughter's short list included Barnard and BC; and it is these two schools that seem to have moved up the most in the Forbes rank vs US News.

They chose Barnard despite a laughable US News ranking -laughable given that it has graduated more female MD's than any other school and affords the same classes as Columbia.

Their perception was that Barnard and Boston College were well ahead of some of the Ivies and this was confirmed by Forbes.

Go figure.

Carl said...

I hope readers with questions about our methodology read the extensive explanation available on our site:

Many of the issues raised by Ann and others have been carefully examined and dealt with as we worked with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity to compile these rankings.

Thanks for reading and thanks for all the comments here.

Carl Lavin
Managing editor

Joe said...

All colleges and universities pretty much suck in general, but may have one or two departments at which they excel. If you already know what non-stupid BA you want to major in, you can easily find out what the top colleges are in that field. (Again, if you're going to major in some bullshit liberal arts degree, do yourself a favor and go to a local community college.)

For example, if you want to study theoretical physics, Stanford, Caltech and even UCSD are better choices than Harvard or Yale or your local community college. On the other hand, if you want to be a productive software engineer (versus an egghead who pontificates about software engineering) you'll get more bang for the buck going to the cheapest damn college you can find with teachers who actually worked in the field and be prepared teach yourself most everything.

chuck b. said...

Schools complaining about being ranked. Blech. They're not ones to complain!

Pastafarian said...

Why would they include that "Who's Who" data in their methodology? And why include data that show how happy someone is with their professors? And why include graduation rate?

It seems as though these 3 factors would all actually degrade the results -- you'd end up with a lot of schools that graduate people who are more likely to pay for inclusion in "Who's who" (that is, pathetic people who also pay to have their poetry "published" in anthologies printed just for those contributors); colleges where students are happy with their professors because they received easy grades; and colleges that graduate everyone, regardless of their academic accomplishment.

So you see all of the good engineering schools (except for MIT) near the middle or even the bottom of the pack. Case Western, Carnegie Mellon, Rose Hulman, Georgia Tech -- all grossly underrated on this joke of a list.

And I'm not just complaining because my modest alma mater was just a few spots from the very bottom, at 564. (But it doesn't help). I've interviewed and hired people from Carnegie Mellon, and I've interviewed people from Baldwin Wallace, and no one can tell me that Baldwin Wallace is a better school. That's absurd.

They should include what the average salary of a graduate is, normalized for major; what percentage go on to grad school; what percentage actually end up working in their field of choice; what percentage get Nobel prizes or other such honors.

Is there a list like this, based on those criteria?

kengoodsmith said...

Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Johns Hopkins all outside the top 50? If you believe in efficient markets these ratings are a joke. The consumers of college services clearly rank these schools much higher, as demonstrated by the credentials of those attending (oh, and last time I looked you got into Who's Who by filling out a form and agreeing to buy a copy of the book!)

calrablat said...

How does Forbes adjust for colleges where a different review website is used? My school has it's own private website where we rate professors. And at my last school everybody used pickaprof.

Kurt said...

You don't have to buy a copy of Who's Who to be included in it. But I suspect that whether or not one is invited to apply for inclusion depends more on what mailing lists you are on than on any great professional accomplishments.

Ann Althouse said...

Carl said..."I hope readers with questions about our methodology read the extensive explanation available on our site: Many of the issues raised by Ann and others have been carefully examined and dealt with as we worked with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity to compile these rankings."

Well, Carl, I read Forbes's own presentation of its methodology, and a lot of people are reading this post. If I've said something that you can refute, you ought to do it here. I think it's perfectly ridiculous to use Who's Who and Rate My Professors. It's just a joke. What is your response? A URL? You should defend your little project more aggressively. Your appeal to the authority of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity is lame and uninvigorating. If you care, sum it up your defense quickly for all the people who are coming by here, if you can and I will respond to that.

Vermando said...

One response to above - BC is not better than most of the Ivies. It is a great school for the right person, but for sheer academic excellence, most of the Ivies - and most of the highly regarded New England liberal arts colleges - are better.

Jane said...

It is absurd and professionally irresponsible of "Forbes" to lend its name/reputation to this study. In my thirty-five year career in med and B-school admissions, I've visited, interviewed and/or reviewed candidates from virtually all of these schools.

Frankly, there are some colleges on this list that don't compare (in quality of instruction/students)to some of our better high schools. I am completely appalled that anyone who reads this will take it seriously.

I am certain, however, that many of the very modest schools listed will tout their rankings in next year's publications.

This list is simply egregiously misleading to HSers and their parents.

Henry said...

No question, the Forbes rankings are completely ludicrous. U.S. News and Washington Monthly both have many methodological flaws but actually look great by comparison to the Forbes nonsense tables. I doubt that anyone with any brains will take these rankings seriously. Come on, Wabash in the top 25 overall!?

Conceptually, numerical college rankings are just a bad idea but, all things considered, you could come up with a better system by taking the best methodological components used in the U.S News and Washington Monthly approaches and develop something reasonably fair (but hardly perfect).

A blending of parts of the two systems would probably yield a top ten national university category of say:

Harvard, Chicago, Berkeley, MIT, Cal Tech, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon and Cornell.

The LAC top ten lineup would likely include:

Swarthmore, Williams, Wesleyan, Amherst, Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Bowdoin, Claremont McKenna and Bryn Mawr.

Food for thought...