No one in higher ed wants a low ranking. Ever. Not for football. Not even for food service.
But when it comes to rankings, the big daddy is still those &*^#$!! U.S. News & World Report rankings.
They’re like the overnight TV ratings that drive TV execs crazy.
So why do academics aspire to be like those poor aforementioned TV execs who value CSIs over Ph.D.s?
Why are folks in higher ed falling into the trap of wanting to be so pedestrian?
You are in higher ed for a reason. To be of service. To educate. Magazine rankings? Really? And from a newsweekly magazine that was in such despair it had to rethink its coverage of real news and resort to rankings in order to build up a flagging circulation that was below sea level?
In the old days, U.S. News & World Report used to be known for its hard news — and was in back of the pack. Time Magazine which was known for its jaunty, breezy style was generally the leader. And Newsweek? Well, it was part of the Washington Post family and was like a trusty sidekick with glossy pictures.
Since the Internet rocked the word of print media, the newsweeklies have been scrambling to discover relevance, struggling to reinvent themselves.
Lo and behold emerging from the ruins stands U.S. News & World Report which discovered that, instead of news, people just want information and rankings to make the best consumer decisions — in anything.
It’s worked — the college gimmick is its crown jewel.
On a massive scale, it provides information to families who embark on a major family decision and are completely in the dark.
Since people want the best for their kids, or their wallets, they want to rank the schools like good consumers of say cars and refrigerators — just so they know how good or bad the choices they make really are.
In some sense, educators are to blame for this way of thinking. No one is into grading like educators. And in the end, ranking is what all the grades are for. Equality? Better exists in all things.
But grading is subjective.
And of what use are apples to orange comparisons?
Mindful of that, U.S. News has all its categories and subcategories and people still go crazy when they’re not No.1 even in some subcategory.
Because the best really want to be measured among all — on the big list.
What to do?
Take the UC Riverside (UCR) approach.
Go zen. Forget about it.
According to a recent Washington Post article, UCR has dropped from 94th in 2010 to 121st. That’s 27 places in five years!
No, they’ve got it in perspective at the UCR.
They realize how I, as a consumer/parent/reporter have come to view the Top 100. They tend to focus on the wealthy, the powerful and the Whitest institutions.
That means Ivies, little Ivies and poison Ivies.
That means institutions that are more private than public.
Here’s how the University of California’s PR department put its spin on the U.S. News rankings:
“Half of the nation’s top 10 public universities are University of California campuses in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of leading U.S. public universities.
“ … UC Berkeley topped the list of best public universities, followed closely by UCLA at No. 2. UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC San Diego filled out the top 10, followed by UC Davis at No. 11.
“The latest in a string of UC accolades, the U.S. News & World Report list places UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Davis among the top 50 best colleges for value based on net cost and the campuses’ rankings. UC campuses also rated highly on the list for undergraduate business programs and top engineering programs.”
No mention of Riverside, but just look at that school’s record.
First, the diversity. At UCR, 36 percent are Hispanic, 36 percent Asian, 5 percent African-American. Fourteen percent are non-Hispanic White. Others are multiracial.
Riverside is up-to-date with society’s diversity changes.
It also serves people in need. The Post reports 58 percent of undergrads qualify for Pell Grants.
Federal research grants are also up — $79 million in 2015.
In another ranking by Washington Monthly magazine, UC Riverside placed second in the nation.
Chancellor Kim Wilcox is not worried about the U.S. News rankings at all, according to the Post.
If Wilcox isn’t, you shouldn’t be either. Nor should you be meeting with your marketing team devising ways to lift up your school.
Instead, you should be making your school the best possible place for young people to learn and graduate.
At UCR people graduate. The graduation rate is 73 percent for Black students, higher than the White retention rate, 69 percent. Hispanic retention rate is at 66 percent.
More than ratings, your alumni are the best evangelizers in the marketplace.
They can’t sell colleges. Just magazines.
Emil Guillermo is the recent winner of the 2015 Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice. He writes on race issues at www.aaldef.org/blog and for the Asian America site at www.nbcnews.com.