Saturday, August 21, 2004

US News College Rankings

Orin Kerr notes the appearance of the 2005 US News College Rankings, and he also links to a critique by the usually insufferable Brian Leiter, whose beef isn't with the very plausibility of such a linear ranking per se, but with the fact that UPenn is given the 4th place slot, a ranking I'm sure most Ivy Leaguers outside of that particular school will also find risible.

Personally, I think it ought to be obvious that these rankings are utterly bogus - not only is the very idea that all schools can be ranked on a single scale that is suitable for all or even most people absurd, but the statistics used are such that very small changes in the weightings alloted to the various categories would produce dramatic swings in the results. Now, having said all that, I still will admit to feeling a not entirely irrational* interest in how well my alma mater performs, and note with some satisfaction that though tied with Columbia for 9th place, it does at least beat out Brown and Cornell in the rankings stakes. If this report really were a serious attempt at assessing the relative quality of undergraduate teaching at the top colleges, I'm convinced that Dartmouth would do even better than it does, certainly better than any of the big research institutions where only the very best students get plenty of face time with their professors early in their academic careers.

*Not entirely irrational in that however bogus the rankings may be, an astonishing number of people in positions of influence do take them to be divinely inspired, and that affects the way they view graduates from the various schools that are surveyed.

PS: For a different take on how various schools rate, this site is worth checking out. Especially interesting is how a certain institution is rated in terms of undergraduate teaching: as I said, some places are likely to prove disappointing for all but the very most talented of the students they take in, though if you are the sort of fellow with a fair shot at, say, a silver or a gold medal at the IMO, then by all means, Harvard is the best place in the world for you to be, and you'll be certain to thrive there, just as long as you have the guts to go seek out your world-famous professors!