This op-ed was originally published in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on Sunday, November 21st, 2016.
It’s college rating season, which means that it’s the time of year administrators scroll through US News and World Report, Newsweek, Forbes, The Princeton Review, and the Wall Street Journal to see how their institutions show. The higher the rankings, the better the University, or so the periodicals imply. Unfortunately, none of the publications make an effort to explain how they arrive at their conclusions. Even a slight application of the critical thinking skills colleges claim to encourage illustrates the inherent race and class bias of most college rankings.
Fact: Rankings are based on methodological categories determined to be of value by each periodical. For example, Forbes gives extra weight to alumni salaries without considering their career fields: an excellent college that prepares K-12 teachers is at a disadvantage to a mediocre one that has engineering majors. US News and Newsweek provide extra weight to students who come from privileged backgrounds where median ACT/SAT scores trend higher, but neither consider how socioeconomic class and location of the public school system affect those scores which penalizes colleges that create a diverse student body. The Wall Street Journal weights graduate salaries and graduation rates (which is intimately tied to one’s socioeconomic origins) at a combined 23%, while student diversity, staff diversity, student inclusion and proportion of international students account for a combined weighting of 10%.
Fortunately, there are a few entities which rate schools based on what they are doing for our country and how their educational experience transforms students. Ratings are based on outcomes, that is, how students are prepared and transformed rather than inputs, a student’s “history of origin.” Brandon Busteed and the Gallup organization are taking it a step further. In a recent Trusteeship article, Busteed noted “the end of college rankings as we know them.” With a database of over 60,000 students, his research concludes that where a student attends school is absolutely of no consequence to living a great life. What matters most is what happens within the university a student attends. Students who report high degrees of emotional support and experiential learning score higher on the five elements of well-being scale that Gallup has been studying for 80 years. For example:
-Did they have professors who made them excited about learning and cared for them as a person (emotional support)?
-Did they have mentors who encouraged their goals (emotional support)?
-Did they engage in high degrees of experiential learning, such as long-term projects, meaningful internships and involvement in extracurricular activities?
The well-being scale is critical in predicting the overall quality of a student’s post-college personal and professional life. These elements of well-being are:
- Purpose: how you occupy your time;
- Social: relationships in your life;
- Financial: managing your economic life;
- Community: engagement where you live; and
- Physical: health.
Students who experience four to six engagements of emotional or experiential support are overwhelmingly more likely to live healthy, productive lives after college. In other words, an Ivy League undergraduate who never knows a professor is less likely to have a healthy adult life than an undergrad from Timbuck U, who was mentored by an English professor.
So here’s my advice when making a University visit:
Ask the student tour guide/s how many professors they know, and whether their professors care for them. College Tour Tip: Ask the tour guide how many professors they know & whether their professors care for them.… Click To Tweet
Ask who their mentors are, and the projects about which they’re excited. College Tour Tip: Ask your tour guide who their mentors are & the projects about which they’re excited.… Click To Tweet
Ask whether they’ve had an internship, and what kind of organizations exist on campus. College Tour Tip: Ask the tour guide whether they’ve had an internship & what organizations they're part of.… Click To Tweet
The empirical data concludes that the answers to those critical questions will determine the quality of your son’s or daughter’s life, post- graduation. If you and your son/daughter are satisfied with the answers, they should apply, enroll, and prepare to have an experience that will form them for a lifetime. And there’s one more thing: recycle your copy of US News.