Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > News

The College Ranking Sytem is Flawed

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

The most recent U.S. News & World Report for 2023-2024 Best Colleges is out, much to the dismay of numerous colleges that dropped in rank, including our very own Florida State University (FSU). FSU’s ascent to the Top 15 public universities in the country has taken a backseat after its four-step drop to No. 23, which is now tied with the College of William & Mary and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. These drastic downward slides come following modifications to the company’s ranking methodology. 

For four years running, FSU has been placed in the top 20. Last year, it shared the No. 19 spot with Rutgers, the University of Maryland, and the University of Washington. Other Florida institutions such as the University of South Florida, Florida Polytechnic University, and New College of Florida suffered a comparable fate. This year’s rankings utilized a new methodology, incorporating elements such as the proportion of employed graduates earning more than high school grads. It also considered criteria such as the number of first-generation college students enrolled and faculty research productivity.

Some categories were excluded from the list, including the proportion of graduates who graduate with debt, alumni giving rates, and the proportion of faculty with the highest degrees in their specialty. U.S. News also emphasized social mobility, as measured by graduation rates of low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants.

These alterations resulted in substantial declines for a number of schools, which has sparked some debate over the system’s overall validity. 

Ranking systems have helped humans understand things since the beginning of time. They are a means of providing a linear sense of order into what is best and what is worst numerically. Math and statistics make sense; they are concrete. These systems simplify complex decisions by removing all ambiguous aspects, deviations, and other variables that go into results. This is precisely why the college ranking system is flawed. 

The most well-known college ranking list has been published by the U.S. News & World Report since 1983. It now competes with lists created by the Princeton Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times. The process that goes into ranking colleges, while complex, does not account for a variety of components. The best school is where a student is going to learn the most. A few indicators, such as academic standing, the faculty-to-student ratio, and test scores, are heavily weighted in several ranking methodologies.

This criteria might not fairly represent a certain institution’s overall caliber or student suitability. Some ranking factors, such as reputation surveys, may be biased and vulnerable to subjectivity. Even if they might not provide the optimal educational experience for all students, this might lead to exceptional institutions remaining at the top. Every student is unique, therefore even the “No. 1” school might not be the best fit for every student. These opaque and arbitrary rankings may deter students from enrolling in schools that suit their needs and values. 

“The whole practice of ranking universities is not a good way of describing educational quality,” Michael Thaddeus, a math professor at Columbia University told CBS MoneyWatch. “In the memorable words of Colin Diver, ‘Trying to rank institutions of higher education is a little like trying to rank religions or philosophies. The entire enterprise is flawed, not only in detail but also in conception.'”

The institutions with the most resources usually focus on improving their rankings instead of focusing on factors that would benefit the student population in general, such as diversity, mental health spending, and college completion rates. Numerous ranking systems have a bias in favor of certain universities and may not accurately reflect the standard of education provided elsewhere in the world. It is crucial that we dissuade students from believing the myth that a school with a lower number is a “bad” school. 

At the end of the day, the top-ranked institution or university may not always be the one that is ideal for a student. What one school lacks, another excels in. It’s impossible to put a number on a school because it just isn’t that simple. We must steer students away from adopting this way of thinking. Many high school and college students view this list as if it is a religious dogma, but in actuality, it is a subjective list compiled by a group of data scientists. These top-tier universities are far too complex to be reduced to these simplistic rankings.

Want to see more HCFSU? Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram, TwitterTikTok, and Pinterest!

Jillian is currently attending Florida State University and majoring in editing, writing, and media. Her interests include reading, movies/tv shows, music, cooking, writing, and more! She loves Taylor Swift and Ben Platt, and of course Her Campus. Contact: Instagram: jilliankaplann Snapchat: jilliankaplan7