For colleges around the U.S., cooler temperatures and falling leaves aren’t the only thing to look forward to each fall. As students return to campus, college administrators are on the lookout for the new edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best College Rankings.
Malone moved up three spots to number 58 in the category of Midwestern Regional Universities in the latest U.S. News rankings, released on Sept. 13. How much significance do the numbers have, though, and how much do they reflect the actual quality of Malone’s academics?
According to Dr. Jay Case, professor of history, the U.S. News rankings mean something, but not everything.
“They measure particular kinds of things,” Case said. “But there are other things about institutions that they don’t measure, and you can’t measure. … The quality of a Malone education is based on far more than you can put in a U.S. News & World Report ranking.”
The U.S. News rankings are based on a variety of categories, including graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, SAT/ACT scores and alumni giving, among others. Case took issue with one of the more subjective categories: a peer assessment score based on other schools’ opinions of a university.
“Those administrators may not know much of anything about those institutions, and yet they go based on what their reputation is,” he said. “So it’s kind of like if you’ve got a good image, then they’ll give you a high rating for that.”
Case said the popularity of the rankings could be attributed to the fact that they fill a need for prospective students and their parents.
“The problem is that today, parents and students going to college don’t have a quick easy way of figuring out what makes a college good or bad, and this provides a quick, easy way to rank it,” he said.
Dr. Scott Waalkes, professor of international politics, said the U.S. News rankings serves as a “rough guide” for evaluating colleges.
“I think they’re actually helpful in some ways to give you a sense of how schools compare,” Waalkes said. “The ranking system has problems and some flaws, but it does give you kind of a rough guide for how well schools are regarded.”
Waalkes said categories such as retention and alumni giving are “helpful measures for what makes a college stronger or weaker over time.”
“I think there’s some value in the ranking system, but it has some problems and flaws,” he said. “It has to be used with caution.”
Director of Public Relations Suzie Thomas said the U.S. News rankings are something to be proud of, but shouldn’t be taken as a “be-all, end-all.”
“This is one of those things that, if you do well, it’s a big deal,” Thomas said with a laugh. “If you don’t do well, it doesn’t mean anything.
[pullquote]“This is one of those things that, if you do well, it’s a big deal,” Thomas said. “If you don’t do well, it doesn’t mean anything.”[/pullquote]
“We are cautiously pleased. Of course you want to hear you did better than the year before, you like to see where you’ve improved. It’s never a bad thing to have somebody say, ‘Hey, they’re doing a great job.’ But you also take it with a little bit of a grain of salt, and you never sit back on your laurels.”
For Thomas, the most important benchmark for Malone is something that falls outside the scope of the U.S. News rankings.
“The proof is in the pudding,” she said. “Are students happy with the experience they’re receiving? That is a more important benchmark.”