Does it Matter which College is Best?

File:Princeton University halls2.jpg

A photo of Princeton University, because, hey, it’s the best college in America. Source: wikimedia commons.

With U.S. News and World Reports publishing its annual list of the “best” colleges recently, the Atlantic Magazine responds with Your Annual Reminder to Ignore the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings. One reason?

U.S. News is always tinkering with the metrics they use, so meaningful comparisons from one year to the next are hard to make. Critics also allege that this is as much a marketing move as an attempt to improve the quality of the rankings: changes in the metrics yield slight changes in the rank orders, which induces people to buy the latest rankings to see what’s changed.

On the other hand,

For parents and prospective students who know almost nothing about America’s colleges and universities, the ranking provides a rough guide to the institutional landscape of American higher education. Using the U.S. News rankings for any more exacting purpose is about as good for you as eating potato chips and Gummy Bears for dinner. With maple syrup.

Following some of the links in the Atlantic article eventually leads to a review of this book by Jeffery J. Selingo, who, according to the reviewer,

calls the early 2000s the “lost decade” of college financing in his new book College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. At least part of the reason college got more expensive is that Americans were willing to pay more in tuition; parents rich from equity on their overvalued houses demanded more and more amenities at their children’s universities. As a result, Selingo writes, “college leaders spent the last decade chasing high achieving students, showering them with scholarships to snatch them from competitors, and going deep into debt to build lavish residence halls, [and] recreational facilities.” Colleges were getting less money from public sources but spending more, convinced that the gravy train would continue forever.

The future likely involves massive online open courses (MOOCs, like, say, Coursera) and other new, technology-based approaches. But the reviewer, Daniel Luzer, argues

that while Selingo offers a very good take on what declining state funding and innovative technology could mean for both colleges and students, he fails to consider what this “revolution” in higher education might mean for American society as a whole.

What does it mean? Read the review to see what Luzer thinks.


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