(Not) all rankings are bad


Standard university rankings may or may not be bollocks, but they are a destructive force.

This is because of Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

What a world we live in, that the country’s largest and most wealthy universities have collectively decided to cede institutional power to the editors at the US News and World Report.

A new national ranking came out, and they found that my campus is #2 in the country! So maybe I’ll start caring about rankings? wink. But I do think it’s worthwhile to see what we might learn from The Economic Mobility Index. It ranks “schools [that] enroll the highest proportion of students from low- and moderate-backgrounds AND provide them with a strong return on their educational investment.” Here’s a thread from one of the authors with a bit of an explainer.

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We’re number 33!


We’re number 33!

According to the latest rankings by Time Magazine, my current university — California State University Dominguez Hills — is ranked #33 in the nation. Among more than 2,500 colleges and universities.

As people on campus have been quick to point out, Harvard is several spots below us. (If you’re curious, UC Riverside comes out as #1. California public universities are featured quite well on this list.).

How the heck could this be? This survey used new variables that the current US federal government is using to classify universities on how well they serve their students. It takes into account cost, graduation rate, and rates of student aid. If you remove graduation rate from the equation, we come in at #4. Here’s the take on it from the CSUDH campus.

What does this mean, and what does this change?

I think the only thing it means is something we’ve already known: College rankings reflect the values that you put into the equations. Colleges with massive endowments and extraordinarily high rates of alumni giving have done well in the rankings that have been the common currency, used by the US News and World Report. If you measure affordability and accessibility, then you get entirely different results, reflecting entirely different values.

If you look at the differences that we make in the lives of our students, we deliver. Moreover in many cases, the differences that we make would not have been made unless we made them. As we prepare for graduation this upcoming weekend, this is something that’ll be on the forefront of my mind.

What does this change? As far as I know (and this is not too extensive in this regard) this could be one of the first national quantitative rankings that doesn’t place our campus in the bottom quarter. Some — though not that many — of my colleagues on campus have a severe inferiority complex about our place of work. It is true that we are under-resourced, which manifests in many limitations. We have always said, “We serve our students well!” and now it’s nice to have this form of external validation.

This also is more than just window dressing, because to some extent these rankings can drive federal policies. I think they were just invented so that the predatory for-profit “universities” can’t use public money for private profit. But at least on our campus, this is a win, and we’ll take it.

Did you hear about this ranking? How did your campus fare? What do you think these Time rankings mean and don’t mean?