Gourman Report: Rankings of Colleges by Department

The Gourman Report (officially Gourman Report of Undergraduate Programs, 10th Edition: A Rating of Undergraduate Programs in American and International Universities) takes a boldly different approach. Instead of ranking schools by overall quality (whatever that is), Dr. Jack Gourman ranks the best English programs, the best Chemistry departments, etc.—everything from Accounting to Zoology. Gourman used dozens of criteria, from faculty salaries to how well the mission of the department is defined, to produce the quantitative rankings.

Gourman's rankings are controversial, and favor large state universities according to some critics. Nevertheless, this is a staple of guidance offices in many high schools.

College Confidential Comments: Our usual caveats about any ranking scheme apply to the Gourman rankings. Seemingly objective, quantitative rankings can be altered dramatically by changing the weights of individual factors. In addition, many issues, like quality of teaching, are difficult to translate into numbers that can be compared across many schools. Gourman's rankings are further complicated by an opaque methodology that produces numeric results without the detailed backup data.

While we would certainly not recommend choosing a school based on its relative position in the Gourman Report, we do think the book can be a valuable aid to identifying potential target schools. This is particularly true when the student is strongly inclined to a particular major. Glancing through the top 10 or 20 colleges in Geology, for example, might yield several choices that had not occurred to the student. Even if the rankings are suspect, having some measure of program reputation may be better than having an undifferentiated list of a hundred or more colleges that offer a particular program.

Pros: Gourman points to the pluses of many large public universities and not just to the usual-suspect Ivies and their "elite" counterparts. He rates specific departments within undergrad offerings which can help direct students to less prestigious colleges with strong offerings in particular areas of study.

Cons: Gourman never explains the methodology he uses to produce the hairsplitting numerical differences that separate one institution from the next; No revision since 1997; Not available for free on the Web. You'll need to buy the (old) book, and even a used copy can run more than fifty bucks.

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