A Defense of Rankings

Click here to go to the NEW College Discussion Forum

Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: A Defense of Rankings
By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 12:34 pm: Edit


by Jay Matthews. I don't really agree with his position in the article, that Americans are "creating new elite schools" because it's so much harder to get into the traditional elite ones, and also that a high ranking somehow indicates a better education (e.g. WUSTL).

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 12:46 pm: Edit

What I don't agree with is the idea that some schools such as WUSTL and Duke rise mostly because of some image polishing. WUSTL benefitted greatly from increased endowment which it used to attract faculty and build facilities. It has used merit money to attract students. Both faculty, facilities and student quality are crucial factors in determining educational excellence. Sure, it has engaged in aggressive marketing. But even if that were the only thing it had done, if it helped raise the quality of students, it would have warranted a rise in the rankings.

That said, I agree that a difference of several points or even 10-15 points is meaningless in undergraduate education.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:05 pm: Edit

Hmmm, I didn't think that was what he was suggesting. It sounded to me like he was saying their quality had improved (and thus the increase in rankings was warranted), due in part to the aggressive marketing campaign and other tactics.

By Idler (Idler) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:17 pm: Edit

I think this article has nothing to say.

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:22 pm: Edit

From this article:

"Look at the rise of certain colleges on the U.S. News list. Duke didn't even make the first rankings in 1983, but it invested heavily in faculty salaries, new buildings and promotion (Samuelson reveals that 70 percent of private colleges like Duke spend $1,000 or more on every recruited freshman). This year Duke is tied for fifth."

What the article doesn't say is that Duke has probably been in the top ten for at least ten years. Duke was tied for fifth last year too. So what? The fact that Duke has invested in faculty salaries and new buildings and programs is what makes it attractive today. I personally don't care how it was ranked over 20 years ago! It is a fairly young school that has earned the reputation that it has gained. This "transformation" has not happened overnight. In my opinion, Duke really has not engaged in aggressive marketing at all. They have just invested money wisely toward the overall improvement of the University.

By Newyorker06 (Newyorker06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 05:29 pm: Edit

Sounds like two old codgers consoling themselves over their failed ambitions for their daughters. Former safety schools manipulating admissions stats to bump up rankings does not make a new elite.

By Alongfortheride (Alongfortheride) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 05:42 pm: Edit

Not everyone aspires to attend one of the Ivies, yet they aspire to attend an excellent school. I for one am glad to see other schools stretching their wings and reaching for excellence. As has been pointed out, the IVY League is an athletics conference. If it rattles the cages of some, then so be it. Newyorker06, that's about the snottiest statement I have heard on these boards.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 05:57 pm: Edit

Along -- I have to say that I've noticed Jay Matthews increased "anti-Ivy" focus (probably better to characterize it as a focus on the lesser known good schools -- she recently wrote a book called "Harvard Schmarvard") after his D decided to go to Pomona. She graduated from an extremely expensive private school in DC (don't know if Samuelson's D went there, too) where the college competetiveness is pretty extreme, and kids routinely go to HYP.

Just witness the defensiveness of some posters about their own kids' choice of non-HYP schools.

By Patsfan (Patsfan) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:04 pm: Edit

I cannot understand how obsessed people are with the college rankings. If one looks at the USN rankings this year vs those of last year, the same schools are in the Top 25 albeit with a somewhat different ordering. Discounting the perennial top eight, the point differential between #9 and #16 is only 3. Big deal, also very subjective.

There are many fine colleges that are not in the top 25 in either the National University or the Liberal Arts survey yet provide outstanding educations. As a matter of fact, the top 25 national universities represent a total of approximately 48,000 students from the class of 2007. Of that number, Ivy league schools had about 13,000. It's too bad that all the other students are missing out on a good education.

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:11 pm: Edit

Duke, if I'm not mistaken, was virtually unknown about 20 years ago (a former English teacher of mine went there - she said that people would say, "Oh, I've heard of Duke. That's in Texas, right?"). That all changed once their basketball team got to be really good... which reveals a sad fact about rankings - how much they are dependent upon athletics.

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:11 pm: Edit

Jay Matthews has claimed for some time that he received a better education at Occidental than at Harvard to which he transferred. Not clear why he transferred, though.

By Alongfortheride (Alongfortheride) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:18 pm: Edit

As has been said countless times, it's all about choice. No one need defend their choice. It is their own.

By Dadx (Dadx) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:36 pm: Edit

Duke was helped tremendously by the exposure from their successful basketball team, as was Georgetown before them. If you have a good school to begin with, the rise to perennial prominence in a major sport is not to be underestimated. It will be interesting to see the long term results at UConn of the bsketball success they are enjoying.

PS. Not saying this is how things oughta be, just the way they are.

Of course, WUSTL has been able to climb the USNews rankings without any such boost.

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:38 pm: Edit

Well said!

By Patsfan (Patsfan) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:42 pm: Edit

The name of the game with WUSTL is marketing and more marketing.

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:46 pm: Edit


WUSTL's huge endowment must be used for something else besides marketing. But even if it were not, getting more highly qualified students surely is an improvement? Students learn as much from one another as from their profs.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 07:03 pm: Edit

As for Jay Matthews, the article he wrote about the college counselor whose son is ending up going to Whitman ((I forget where I read it)) sums up his approach completely. To preserve choice and thus "happiness" ultimately, a kid should apply mostly to schools they will likely get into, plus 1-2 reaches, maybe. It was not a relevant article for kids who are looking at the more selective schools, however.

Wash U just doesn't give up. In spite of my son writing to say he was no longer interested (6 weeks ago at least), we continue to get the weekly missives, and multiple copies of various materials. I am sure this is all computer generated by now, but I really resent the waste of space in my mail box, not to mention the paper. The heavy marketing was a negative for us-we assume they market heavily to increase their # of applications. While this might increase the quality of their applicant pool, it mostly decreases their admissions rate-- which I think is their goal.

By Patsfan (Patsfan) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 07:19 pm: Edit


That's exactly what they do. No one doubts that it is a good school, but they conduct their admissions like a tier four school.

My son who has just entered his freshman year, was inundated with recruiting literature from Wash U. He ended up on the waiting list. Look at some of the similarly rated schools and their amount of applications (Chicago, Northwestern and Dartmouth to name a few).

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 08:43 pm: Edit

Maybe Chicago could do a bit more marketing:

Early applicants drop 17 percent
By Tim Michaels
November 18, 2003 in News
>>MIT, which uses a plan similar to that of Chicago, saw a 22 percent decrease in their early admissions statistics.>>

Admissions admits fewer applicants to the college
By Tim Michaels
May 15, 2004 in News
>>The College extended offers of admission to 3318 applicants and waitlisted around 650 students, aiming for an incoming class of 1170 students. To compensate for the low yield, more students will be taken off the waitlist than in previous years.>>

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 08:50 pm: Edit

Grinnell admin indicated much higher yield than normal this year with a much bigger incoming class than expected, in spite of much lower admissions rate. Apparently the best marketing is done by Newsweek.

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 08:53 pm: Edit

I think they'd (UChicago) have to move to increase yield! (I'm being half-serious.) It would be really interesting to do a study of how visits to a campus affect yield - it would be my suspicion that Chicago loses as many students as they gain.

But I think that is a good thing, not a bad thing. Once you get up above 50% or so rejections, and the top 10% or so in SATs, what is actually gained - by anyone -- in rejecting more applicants?

In my dream world, the best result would be 100% acceptance and 100% yield -- in another words, folks would know where they want to go, colleges would know who they are wanting to attract, and there would be a meeting of the minds and pocketbooks. (From that perspective, the best school in the country, right now, is probably Grinnell. And it might just be.)

When I was in school (back in the dark ages) we were allowed to apply to 3 schools, and a city or state school. No more. The high school office would refuse to process anymore. It meant folks had to know where they wanted to go - reach, match, and safety (I don't remember ever hearing those words.) Good shoppers did well, poor shoppers less so - everyone got in somewhere, and system seemed to work just fine. And there were fewer rather than more disappointments, asbvoth acceptance rates and yields at all the schools, including the elite ones, were much higher.

By Simba (Simba) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 08:55 pm: Edit

"Former safety schools manipulating admissions stats to bump up rankings does not make a new elite."

I think that's what UPENN did. They were the lower Ivies, lousy location, un-attractive campus....but the ad com they hired in 80's did do the same-marketed the school (specifically Wharton) started ED to bump up yield and slowly UPENN moved up.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 09:07 pm: Edit

I was at Penn for grad school and lived in West Philly from 78-82 and I visit every year, this summer my son lived on the campus. I think a lot more has happened than just sending out a bunch of marketing materials and manipulating admissions rates; the immediate neighborhood is a complete turn around. I think they are also true to themselves in what they market. They are not HYP, no matter their ranking- they are a school for a more pragmatic, pre-professional orientation, clearly- with undergrad B and Nursing schools, among others. They were founded this way, they are this way. I sat through 3 info sessions at Penn in 3 summers-no doubt about the message. Do they not want to be a "lower Ivy?"...who knows, and who cares, truthfully.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 09:12 pm: Edit

Oh, I should add that the former EVP at Penn, John Fry (?Sp) has been the President at Franklin and Marshall for about a year. It will be an interesting place to watch as well. Also, Penn now has their second female President..I think a lot of the credit for the upswing and innovation at Penn is attributable to Judith Rodin, hopefully the new president will leave her mark as well.

Mind you, I am not completely enamorate of all that Penn is, but I do think they "are what they say they are."

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 09:20 am: Edit

Penn's admissions numbers have gone up at least in part due to their heavy reliance on ED. When you fill almost 1/2 your class ED, your yield is going to improve.

By Fredo (Fredo) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 10:53 am: Edit

Just as an aside: true Duke story. I'm from New York and a '78 Duke grad (boy, do I feel old!). Summer between fr. and soph year, I was home in NY, wearing a shirt with a big Duke across the front and went to the local 7-Eleven (probably for a slurpee). Some teenage kid came up to me and asked "who's Duke?" I replied that Duke was not a "who" but the college I went to. He replied, in all seriousness, "Oh, I have a friend named Duke and I thought you might be his girlfriend!"

So much for school recognition in the dark ages of the 70's...

By Marite (Marite) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 10:59 am: Edit

I was in Paris (must have been around that time--I'm even older than you!)--, trying to get a reduced cinema ticket with my Harvard ID. The cashier oohed and aahed about the B school. I said I was not at the B school, but in GSAS. The cashier was astonished: "I did not know that there was anything else to Harvard besides the B school." I'd dropped down in his estimation so much I was not sure I would get a reduced ticket! So much for international name recognition.

By Lillythecat (Lillythecat) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 12:59 pm: Edit

I went to Duke for grad school more than 20 years ago after graduating from JHU. Duke was not a backwater then; to the contrary, I was directed there over Harvard and some other bigger "name" schools. Duke also was the first choice among several extremely bright undergrads whose classes I TA'd 20+ years ago. Having said that, I preferred the academic climate at JHU (where I was not a science major), and remain surprised that Duke has always outranked JHU on the U.S. News lists (although both well-deserve a high rank).

By Idler (Idler) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:30 pm: Edit

Penn's rise in the rankings, and in nearly everyone's esteem, is not only due to its admissions policies; at about the same time those were revamped, Penn also brought in John Neff to oversee management of their disastrously managed endowment; he produced a dramatic increase increase in it, and Penn has used their newfound wealth very wisely, leveraging it through outstanding capital campaigns, to increase the quality of their faculty, programs, and physical plant. So it's not just marketing that has improved their status--the place has just gotten better.

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:37 pm: Edit

It just can't be Idler. A school can absolutely not increase in the rankings (or esteem) unless it has a nationally recognized athletic team according to many posters on this board! LOL

(Do the Penn Relays count?)

By Mini (Mini) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:45 pm: Edit

Remember, for one school to go up, another has to go down. Maybe they did nothing at all - just sat there and watched other schools disintegrate!

(it's a thought...)

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:12 pm: Edit

I think Duke and Emory are the two recent examples of colleges that have used huge endowments to improve their "rankings" over a relatively short period of time (half a century). There is no smoke and mirrors at all. Their rankings have improved because they are located in a high-growth region of the country and they've spent their money to make the schools better. Hard to be anything but praiseworthy of their efforts.

This is certainly not a new approach. They have been basically copying Stanford's formula -- use a big endowment and a growth-region location to build a world-class university out of nothing.

And, frankly, it's the way that the old ivy-covered Northeast elites built their reputations as well. It's no coincidence that the most prestigious universities and liberal arts colleges happen to be the schools with the largest endowments. The only difference is that these schools built their endowments from a different generation of industry moguls (the Carnegies and the Rockefellers) rather than more recents moguls (Woodruff of Coca-Cola, etc.). Don't forget that, when the northeast schools established themselves, the northeast was the high-growth industrial/commericial region of the country, while the other regions were still largely agrarian.

By Tsdad (Tsdad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:33 pm: Edit

Dook's rise in people's estimation has as much to do with its basketball team, and the resulting exposure, as anything else.

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:46 pm: Edit

I noticed from you profile that you went to grad school at UNC, a big athletic rival of "Dook". Maybe that helps to explain your last statement. It can't be sour grapes can it?

By Marite (Marite) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:13 pm: Edit

From comments about the rise in the rankings of some schools, it would appear that the common denominator is an increased endowment that has been used to attract more faculty, build better facilities, and select students with higher stats than previously. Why should anyone be surprised?

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:24 pm: Edit

I don't think it's fair to attribute Duke's success entirely to its basketball program. They have built an excellent school in every sense.

My only reservation with Duke's approach is that they seem to be self-conscious in their efforts to be "just as good as, in exactly the same way as" existing powerhouse universities. I think this self-consciousness institutional striving may explain some of the complaints about Duke's somewhat chilly campus ambience. It's almost as if the admissions process is targeted to compete with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. -- for example, by consciously emphasizing high SAT scores.

In some ways, I respect Emory's approach. Rather than trying to be "just like Yale", Emory seems to have taken the tack of building a new university that is a reflection of, and tightly integrated with, its rapidly-growing host city. I see more of a similarity with Stanford, a school that is quintessentially "California" rather than a clone of a New England university.

And, then again...I may be all wet. Just one guy's opinion from having a daughter who visited and considered both schools.

By Dadx (Dadx) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:40 pm: Edit

1. Get more kids to apply, including really desireable ones.

2. Accept the best ones

3. Get them to attend.

Obviously, 1 and 3 are the toughest parts, although they are related.

I do think that a positive national exposure helps a lot with both 1 and 3. Endowment plays a role over the longer term, except with regard to #2 where it can be used to lower the cost for exceptional students who might otherwise decide to go elsewhere.

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:53 pm: Edit


The students at Duke feel very strongly that Duke has its own identity. The following is from a survey of 550 undergraduates conducted in December of 2003.

"The most important -- and interesting -- finding of the survey was the students’ idea of a Duke identity, and the seemingly strong resistance to becoming what is perceived to be an Ivy League university," said Rick Garcia, DSG’s director of student services. From these results, there is a strong desire to maintain that unique identity that we have -- admitting ‘well-balanced’ students who are both academically brilliant and seek a strong social scene."

I think that Duke does not want to be just like some of the schools you mentioned. The students do have an identity, and are very proud of it. Like other posters have stated on other threads, you really can't judge a campus by a brief college visit, or by what others (including US News) perceive to be true.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 04:09 pm: Edit


Your quote makes it sound like the students surveyed share my impression that Duke risks leaning a bit too much in the direction of an Ivy League clone.

If it were not a perceived issue, it probably wouldn't have been a question of a student survey. Just like, if an overemphasis on athletics were not an issue at Williams, a forum on the proper role of athletics at Williams probably wouldn't have been scheduled as part of an alumni reunion weekend.

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 04:17 pm: Edit

Well, with a visionary new President, the future in Durham looks very bright.

(Despite the fact that the new President hails from Yale!)

Report an offensive message on this page    E-mail this page to a friend
Posting is currently disabled in this topic. Contact your discussion moderator for more information.

Administrator's Control Panel -- Board Moderators Only
Administer Page