Alternative Ranking Gives Hopkins An 'F' And Harvard A 'd'

August 20, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

The annual rankings released by U.S. News & World Report have become a virtual shorthand for how we discuss the quality of colleges and universities.

It is a fact that vexes many educational administrators and analysts, even as they use the rankings for marketing purposes. Some colleges, such as Sarah Lawrence in New York, have refused to submit data for the rankings. Others, such as Clemson University, have received criticism for tailoring academic programs to boost rankings.

U.S. News looks at a range of factors, including acceptance rates, class size, average SAT scores of entering students, alumni giving and academic reputation. But critics say the rankings overlook any number of factors, including the relative value provided by a school and the quality of its core course offerings.

In response, several alternative rankings have sprung up in recent years.

Forbes jumped into the ranking game last year, incorporating factors such as a college's number of successful alumni, online ratings of professors and the debt accumulated by students. Its top 10 includes such standards as Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities but ranks them all behind the U.S. Military Academy.

On Wednesday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni unveiled a new grading system that takes colleges to task for not requiring courses in math, composition, foreign language, economics and other core disciplines. Employers often complain that college graduates fall short in these areas, said Anne Neal, president of the council.

"Will they be able to come out writing a coherent paragraph or doing basic math?" Neal said. "What we've found is that the higher the tuition, the higher the chance students will be left to themselves to determine the nature of their education."

The U.S. News rankings focus heavily on the resources that go into an institution, Neal said, but "they aren't focusing on the education that goes on."

Seven schools earned an "A" in ACTA's grading system. The Johns Hopkins University, No. 14 among national universities according to U.S. News, got an "F." Harvard, No. 1 on the U.S. News list, got a "D."

Hopkins spokesman Tracey Reeves said all ranking systems are flawed. "Students should make decisions based on finding the best personal fit for them," she said. "It's a highly subjective decision not best determined by quantitative analysis."

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