U.S. News: September 12, 2017

Dear Mr. VP,

Politico: How U.S. News college rankings promote economic inequality on campus.

I’m an admissions nerd, so this is what I’m writing about today.

This is not shocking to anyone who has ever worked in an admissions office in a higher ed setting.

It’s long, but if you’d like to know why U.S. News is the bane of my very existence, and should be the bane of yours as well, if you’re committed to the idea of access to higher ed for all (which, I suppose you’re not), consider reading it.

If you want the TL;DR, here are the most important pieces:

“Higher education in America is a fiercely competitive enterprise. It’s a market-based system in which status is largely based on perception — a university’s prestige has an inordinate effect on who applies and how easily students are able to get jobs with lucrative employers. And the mark of prestige, in recent decades, has been a ratings system begun by the nation’s third-largest news magazine.

Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford University sociologist who has studied college admission practices, said the U.S. News rankings have evolved into nothing less than “the machinery that organizes and governs this competition.”

“They’re kind of a peculiar form of governance,” he said. “They’re not states, they’re not official regulators, they don’t have the backing of a government agency. But they effectively serve as the governance of higher education in this country because schools essentially use them to make sense of who they are relative to each other. And families use them basically as a guide to the higher education marketplace.”

“Among the factors in the U.S. News formula are:

—Students’ performance on standardized admissions tests, which correlate strongly with family income, more than high school grades, which have less of a correlation.

— Having a lower acceptance rate, which many colleges have sought to achieve by leaning more on early decision admissions; this hurts lower-income students who apply to more schools in order to compare financial aid packages.

— Performing well on surveys of high school guidance counselors from highly ranked high schools, while many high schools in less affluent areas have few or no counselors.

— Alumni giving, which creates incentives to appease alumni by accepting their kids.

Meanwhile, there is no measurement for the economic diversity of the student body, despite political pressure dating back to the Obama administration and a 2016 election that revealed rampant frustration over economic inequality. There is, however, growing evidence that elite universities have reinforced that inequality.

Recent studies have produced the most powerful statistical evidence in decades that higher education — once considered the ladder of economic mobility — is a prime source of rewarding established wealth. One report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation found that kids from the top quartile of income earners account for 72 percent of students at the nation’s most competitive schools, while those from the bottom quartile are just 3 percent. Fewer than 10 percent of those in the lowest quartile of income ever get a bachelor’s degree, research has shown.

The lack of economic diversity extends far beyond the Ivy League, and now includes scores of private and public universities, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, which used tax data to study campus economic trends from 2000 to 2011, the most recent years available. For instance, the University of Michigan enrolls just 16 percent of its student body from the bottom 60 percent of earners. Nearly 10 percent of its students are from the top 1 percent.”

Even shorter TL;DR: U.S. News rankings have a significant impact on college/university policies, the rankings are based on classist bullshit, and this leads said colleges and universities to implement classist bullshit policies to rise in the rankings.

What can you do? I suppose if you gave a shit, you could call your alma mater and ask them not to send data to U.S. News. Good old Hanover College (go Panthers!) tied for #112 in National Liberal Arts Colleges. Admissions phone number: (800) 213-2178.

D

 

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