Grading U.S. Colleges

Guest post by Brittani Mulkey

As a student of the No Child Left Behind era, I will admit that my first reaction upon hearing about a new ranking system and assessment of colleges was one of annoyance. “We’re going to be doing this again?” I said to myself. This is of course my own personal bias; testing has become a dirty word over the course of my education (which makes working in the Assessment Office pretty funny). My second gut reaction was, “This will not end well.” Again, I will have to admit to a personal bias as I tend to be a bit of a pessimist when it comes to change, particularly on such a large scale.

Photo by Andrew Schmidt

Photo by Andrew Schmidt

After actually thinking about this plan and reminding myself that my gut reactions are not always accurate, I still find myself a little bit conflicted. The issue with any new proposed reform is one of expectations v. reality. Sure, at the beginning this might sound like a great idea, but when it is put into place it might go terribly. Of course, the opposite is also true – this might just sound like a terrible idea, but once implemented it could be an excellent system. The fact of the matter is no one knows for sure because the plan hasn’t even been released yet.

One of my main concerns with the ranking of colleges is the effect on those of lower socioeconomic standing; with this ranking system, they may find themselves unable to afford college tuition or to find colleges in their area. Although the system will compare similar colleges (so a public college based in a small town will not be compared to the Ivy Leagues), this might still pose some problems. When compared to similar public colleges in small towns, college X might rank quite a bit lower than the others, due to its large attendance of students of lower socioeconomic status. The ranking might then reflect the cultural and socioeconomic background of the students rather than the actual performance of the university. The college might be unable to bring their ranking up due to this situation. If they are unable to bring up their ranking, the college will then begin to lose some of their money and potentially have to shut down. If the college is shut down and it is the only one in that community, those unable to commute will be unable to transfer to another college. Furthermore, they may be unable to afford the tuition to another college; it is likely that they attended college X because of its lower tuition.

Notice, however, that many of the sentences in the previous paragraph include the word “might.” Nothing is set in stone and no one can accurately predict the future concerning this proposal.

On the other hand, having a ranking system of colleges is important for prospective students. Students need to be aware of how well their chosen college compares with other colleges. With the job market being what it is today, it is important for students to know the likelihood of employment after college. Of course, the ranking of a chosen college will not guarantee a student employment after graduation, but it could increase the student’s chances. If the college ranks well within the system, that might suggest that any students who attend that college are more likely to be employed due to their excellent education and experience.

Students should also be getting their money’s worth when they are enrolled in a college (no one likes to waste their money). If a student is paying ridiculous amounts of money for a college education that leaves him or her not so educated, it is important for that student to be aware of it. Conversely, if the student is paying a reasonable amount of money for an excellent education, that should increase a student’s pride in his or her school.

Of course, any and all commentary on this ranking system is merely speculation at this point. Everyone capable of spelling the word “college” has thrown their opinion into the mix on something that hasn’t even been written, much less finalized. Yes, it is going to happen, but no one knows what exactly the ranking system will entail, so any commentary being made on it at this moment is a little pointless. There is still a lot of time between now and this proposed ranking system becoming a fully-realized certainty. Wait until the details have been released, then get out your pitchforks.

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