If you're a follower of higher education news, then you probably heard that the U.S. News & World Report 2021 Best Colleges rankings came out last week. Many high school students and their families eagerly await this late-summer publication every year. They use it as a guide to see where their favored colleges stack up against others, according to the U.S. News editors' calculations. It is widely considered the most prestigious rankings resource.
There are other rankings, however, that can also offer insights into where colleges stand according to various criteria. Today I want to take a look at a set of rankings that you can use in addition to U.S. News. I'm referring to Forbes' America's Top Colleges. These rankings have pros and cons, as with U.S. News and others, but they can be helpful for your research, so keep them in mind while exploring possible candidate schools.
One of the better sources of rankings comparison is the article All the College Ranking Lists You Should Read by Justin Berkman. In addition to discussing the pros and cons of Forbes, he also addresses U.S. News and Niche rankings.
I'm not a huge fan of college rankings. The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm include the fact that certain colleges have been known to play games with their schools' data in order to achieve a higher ranking, especially in U.S. News' eyes.
For example, thecollegesolution.com tells us in an article: "Schools that have acknowledged sending false figures to U.S. News in the past year include Claremont McKenna, George Washington University, Emory University, Bucknell University and the graduate program at Tulane School of Business." This may surprise (or irritate) you, but it is a fact.
The article goes on to show how numbers can be manipulated to improve a college's profile and, consequently, their ranking. Of course, this is simply a matter of blind trust by U.S. News since they have neither the time nor staff available to verify all the data supplied by the many colleges that appear in their rankings. Thus, with the term caveat emptor in mind, let's take a look at some pluses and minuses of the Forbes list.
First of all, Berkman gives us some of the overall benefits for using rankings:
More importantly, he mentions something that has been one of my battle cries for decades: Avoid making your college decisions based on rankings! Here's why:
Now, with all that as a prelude, here are some pros and cons of the Forbes college rankings. Berkman says that "The Forbes college rankings list is newer and less prestigious than the U.S. News list, but … is still very popular and … emphasizes student outcomes from colleges to determine its rankings. Rankings are heavily dependent on post-graduation success, freshman retention rates, and graduation rates …"
Plus, this is one of my main, ongoing concerns for college students:
If you're thinking that Forbes has too many cons in relation to its pros, take a look at what Berkman has to say about the U.S. News rankings. In fact, if we care to rank the three sets of rankings Berkman discusses, perhaps his most flattering review goes to Niche, which has far more pros than cons in comparison to U.S. News and Forbes.
The "Part 1" in my title sets the stage for a Part 2 discussion of the Niche rankings, which is another worthy supplement to U.S. News. Even beyond the three lists mentioned above, other specialized rankings exist, such as Money's, which I also discuss in Part 2.
Ranking lists have become even more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. On-campus college visits have all but been replaced with virtual tours, which can hardly take the place of "trodding the sod," as I like to say.
Rankings can also add a touch — just a touch — of objectivity to offset the marketing deluge of a virtual visit, where colleges (obviously) don't show dirty dorm bathrooms and you can't smell the empty beer kegs behind frat houses. Rankings, then, might be your "port in the storm" of coronavirus.
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