Just the other day, my dad told me that NC State is ranked number 80 out of all 312 national universities in the United States on U.S. News. At first, I thought it was impressive to attend a high-ranking university. I then went on their website to see how they rank colleges.
The first thing that caught my eye while viewing this list was that Chapel Hill was an entire 50 places higher than us, and I asked myself, “How is that possible?” I don’t doubt that Chapel Hill and similar institutions are good schools, but what exact metrics account for them ranking so much better than a university like NC State?
So I decided to research their methodology, and upon reading I began to notice a disturbing pattern: Student achievement is hardly ever acknowledged. Besides graduation rates, this list does not highlight any student achievement. Nowhere does the list acknowledge the average current GPA, the number of extracurricular activities, or discoveries made at that college. By ignoring students' academic success or extracurricular activities, college rankings are undermining student success through neglect, which is an important factor for judging a university.
The measure of student excellence is also a large problem for these lists. A student’s success is often measured based on their college admission test scores and high school class rank. Nowhere on this website do they state they account for the average student body GPA. This clearly shows that U.S. news is more interested in what kind of students colleges accept and not how well students are actually doing in college.
U.S. News also fails to acknowledge extracurricular activities available on campus. Everyone who has attended college knows that part of the experience is joining a club. The methodology U.S. News uses fails to account for the number of organizations or number of students active in extracurricular activities. This is important because joining a club allows students to apply what they learned and impact their surrounding communities, which is an important indicator of how a college is preparing its students for the real world.
Lists that rank universities in this way only perpetuate the overrated prestigiousness of the Ivy League schools. Valerie Strauss, an author for the Washington Post who covers educational affairs, claims that a problem with the U.S. News methodology is that it relies too much on expert opinion, in this case meaning that rankings rely on officials from universities and high school counselors to critique other colleges. These officials are often focused solely on criteria independent from the student perspective and thus ignore how well the university actually educates its student body.
Now, does this mean that college rankings are completely useless? Not exactly. The U.S. News list, and by extent other college-ranking websites, can provide some useful feedback on how colleges can reach a higher standard of quality education, meaning that these lists are mainly made for colleges, not students.
Students should not judge the worth of their college based on an arbitrary list. Rather, students should judge their own college based on their own experience. A student’s experience can accurately critique a college’s professors, the number of organizations available, or how active a university is within its community. NC State certainly doesn’t need a list to determine how great our school is; we do it ourselves.