The Rankings Illusion

The Rankings Illusion
This was originally written for my school paper right after the 2009 USNWR Rankings came out.  Nonetheless, the sentiments still ring true and it is a worthwhile read.

I recently had the honor of chatting with Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch about the U.S. News and World Review Rankings which recently came out.  Similarly to Reed College, Wake Forest University created waves this past year by becoming one of the first national institutions to make the S.A.T. standardized test optional for admissions.  In the UNSWR Rankings this year, Wake Forest University held its ground and is tied at 28 with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Tufts University among National Universities.

College Rankings are not definitively positive or negative; rather President Hatch said they were a “good start” for prospective high school students beginning their college search.  However, they are “crude at best” and do not acknowledge that schools have different measures for evaluating potential students.  Different schools have different “histories and characters” that prospective students need to experience.  To illustrate this point, he pointed out that Wake Forest University is tied with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, despite the fact that they are “very different institutions”.  Chapel Hill is a premier research institution, while Wake Forest provides a more “nurturing” Liberal Arts environment.

During our conversation, President Hatch also warned against a “slavish” following of such crude and largely capricious metrics.  He said that the there is “always a danger of chasing fame and success” because ultimately the “goal to chase is the best learning environment.”  The appropriate acclaim and respect will follow.

Despite the negative aspects of the USNWR College Rankings, President Hatch asserted that they have “in some ways helped Wake Forest” in that the institution is consistently ranked among the top 30 National Institutions in the nation.  But rather than through media outlets like the U.S. News and World Review Rankings or the Forbes Rankings, Wake Forest has created a special niche and thrived through what President Hatch called “word of mouth.”  Rankings systems are also engrained in our society.  Wake Forest is certainly part of this system so it is unwise to completely reject the USNWR.  Instead, Wake Forest strives to “chart its own course” and the aforementioned niche that drew so many of its students to Winston-Salem.

As we concluded our conversation, President Hatch remarked that ultimately, “the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings is an impressive measure of some utility, but it should never be followed so slavishly by students.”  According to President Hatch, it is important for students to prioritize what experience they seek from higher education and truly get to know the place where they will call home for four years.

Photo by dgtlchkn.
This entry was posted in Admissions, College Rankings, Search and Selection, Written by Will and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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