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College President: The Tyranny of College Rankings

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Part of American higher education's strength is in the diversity of choice it provides. Nothing has done more to confuse our understanding of quality and personal factors in higher education than the attempts to rank colleges and universities. As usual, they are in the headlines lately, but the tide might be shifting. I shared some of my thoughts on rankings and a curated history of articles and podcasts about them in my most recent newsletter. If you'd like to receive regular updates, subscribe to my newsletter here!

With some high-profile universities recently taking the step of refusing to participate in law school rankings, are we finally at a tipping point to dismantle these misleading publications, which have "accelerated the erosion of autonomy, ambition, innovation, and quality in colleges?"

The inimitable Leo Botstein, president of @bardcollege, addresses the "meaningless and destructive" rankings in a new opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Can We Finally Topple the Tyranny of Rankings_-1
Download PDF • 1.59MB

See below for some key quotes, and open the link above to read his excellent summary of the absurdity and "conformist" impact of the rankings.

"Although doctors and hospitals are now also ranked, the nation seems more cautious about trusting those rankings. The easiest way to get a good record on mortality and cures is to shut

out the very sick and not treat those against whom the odds are stacked... In higher education, the

competition for higher rankings has spurred a self-imposed uniformity based on a fictitious standard of objective quality set by a magazine’s questionable methodology."

"Many of [education's] values — curiosity, exploration, contemplation, discovery — are

relatively intangible, and its goals lie beyond productivity and efficiency. When in

doubt about such values and goals, we take refuge behind numbered rankings, as if all

of life could be framed as an Olympic sport. Faced with a dizzying array of different colleges and universities, the public, eager to secure status for their offspring, welcomed the rankings."

"As it turns out, many of the metrical criteria used by U.S. News and other ranking

systems are at odds with best educational practice... How can numbers measure the impact

of an education on what people believe, how they spend their time, how they pursue

their lives as individuals and citizens?

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