We have a fascination for measuring and rating. How many miles have I walked today? What do I weigh? Which country is the richest? The happiest? The biggest warmonger?
And what is the best college? The decline of public support for higher education has enlarged our interest in getting our money’s worth from exorbitantly-priced colleges, now that the burden of paying falls onto the family. People pore over 1 or more of the dozens of ranking systems in search of the best ranking system for the best colleges.
But the important information is not in the rankings. The key to any ranking system and its worth to the consumer of the rankings is in the criteria being measured. What does an individual ranking system mean by “best”? The question seems obvious and salient. But if we paid more attention to the criteria for measuring “best”, we would never be surprised to find that Harvard is not in the top 20 of some rating systems, and that some tiny colleges whose football team could not defeat a Texas high school team are in the top 10 of some rating systems.
Should we be surprised that colleges that pay more attention to their students’ mental development are not the same colleges whose graduates make more income after graduation or whose faculty are the most famous? Rankings can be done more or less skillfully, but the key for the consumer of the rankings is THE CRITERIA SHAPING THE RANKINGS.