We’re (Not) Number One

In an update to the Washington Post story about college ratings, Dana Chivvis at AOL News writes that this time of year brings out major critics of the college ratings game:

“[To] say that there’s one best college … is completely asinine. There’s no such thing as one best college,” Lloyd Thacker, director of the Education Conservancy, told AOL News. “Education is what you make of it, not where you go.”

Well yes, but apparently the rankings make it a little easier for many people:

“We’re not doing the rankings for academics, we’re doing them for college students,” [director of data research at U.S. News and World Report Robert] Morse told AOL News. “The public is not objecting to our rankings — you don’t see college students or parents rejecting analytical comparisons of schools.”

But just because students and parents use the rankings doesn’t mean they should. And often they use the rankings for very, well, odd reasons. Around this time of year back in 2006 Alan Finder wrote a story for the New York Times about how college rankings can work. One man was particularly concerned with the image of his alma mater, Cornell University, explaining,

“Because of when most people go to college, their identity becomes closely associated with the identity of their university,” said [the alumnus].

Let the college’s standing drop in publications that rank universities, he said, and “my value as a human being feels like it’s dropping.”

This person, obviously, is a rather extreme example. Nonetheless, he perhaps perfectly illustrates the prevailing, usually rather more subliminal, worry many have about college: Is mine good enough?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer