Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Reviling the reviewers

Posted by Ron Coleman on June 28, 2007


The colleges — or some of them — are threatening to boycott the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. Obviously they are doing something right:

Before blasting U.S. News, however, perhaps the Education Conservancy and its allies should consider why the rankings have become such a sensation since they were first published in 1983: The magazine’s editors and writers aren’t interfering with higher education so much as responding to a consumer demand for more information about it.The demand exists because colleges and universities are among the least accountable institutions in American life. Private companies must report profits and losses to their shareholders. Even K-12 public schools, which the government protects from genuine competition, increasingly post standardized test scores on websites, allowing parents to assess their performance. The higher-education sector faces nothing similar. It remains shrouded in mystique — and it would like to keep things that way, so that it may continue to live in its cozy cocoon of tenure, sabbaticals, and parents who are willing to foot exorbitant tuition bills.

Now as John J. Miller’s article points out, there’s plenty about the U.S. News rankings that is silly — it’s mainly a popularity poll. But its quantitative factors have been improving over the years and, for Heaven’s sake, it gets the right answer for number one just about every year. I like Miller’s point about accountability, however. It’s an issue being addressed on other fronts, such as trustee elections, as well. As a semi-active alumnus of Number One, I have observed that on the one hand, by any conceivable measure, Princeton seems to just get better and better at just about everything. I’d like to work there, if I could.

I probably never will, because I keep saying this: My alma mater seems more and more the “property” of a self-perpetuating Ivyocracy that appoints trustees and faculty that share its views and in turn reappoints and reaffirms them in a never-ending echo chamber of shared cultural, philosophical, educational and political assumptions. Will the U.S. News poll have any affect on that? I doubt it, but any increase in transparency would, you’d think, be appreciated.

Except, of course, for Princeton and the other “winners.” By virtue of the success that the rankings reinforce, Old Nassau continues to be the place that is not broken, and why would it ever be fixed? It’s good to be the king — or at least the courtiers to a throne where not only are the clothes, but the emperor himself is invisible.


One Response to “Reviling the reviewers”

  1. We applaud the actions of the Annapolis Group. We hope more colleges follow their courageous actions.

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