Yet another college ranking system has come out today and once again I am less than impressed with its usefulness for most students. This ranking is entitled “What will they learn” and is put together by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
This ranking attempts to give a letter grade to what is taught at “100 of the nation’s leading colleges and universities.” Specifically, they look at “whether 100 major institutions require seven key subjects:English composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and science.”
The philosophy of this organization appears to be that these seven subjects must be required at a college to get an adequate education. Personally, I tend to have a bias for educations that do indeed cover most, if not all, of those core subject areas. However, I also understand that a student can get a great education without studying each subject area. I don’t think you can give a college a failing grade simply because they don’t require students to study particular subjects.
But the real problem I see with these rankings, broken down into top 20 national universities, top 20 liberal arts colleges, and 60 flagship colleges, is that there seems to be an approach of trying to make colleges look bad. For example, after all of the rankings are given, the report lists an appendix with explanations as to why certain classes at particular colleges did not count as core requirements for that college.
As some of you know, one of my daughters attended Carleton College so I was interested to see Carleton’s rating. Carleton received a “D” which surprised me somewhat since I thought she received a great education there. But what caught my eye was that there was no required math or science course at Carleton according to the ranking. But I knew that there was a requirement for such courses. The explanation comes in the appendix. Carleton requires that a student take a math or science course but not both. Therefore the ranking didn’t consider either as required and thus no check for either subject.
So with that odd result I started to look at the explanations of other colleges and why certain courses were not considered. The more I read about why certain required courses were not counted toward the grade the more it appeared that this organization had an agenda beyond really trying to provide useful information.
Bottom line. I have no problem with a system that tries to provide information about what colleges require what core subjects. You can agree with that approach or not but some people want to have that type of education. But be honest about the information presented. The ranking tables in this system only make sense if looked at in conjunction with the appendix and even then it is not clear what students might be required to learn.
There is an interesting twist that I just read about over at Inside Higher Ed. It seems that the president of the group that put together these new rankings has a daughter at Harvard, a school that earned a “D” in the rankings. When questioned whether her daughter planned to transfer given the obvious poor education you was receiving at Harvard the president replied, “The fact that a well known school does poorly in general education is not a reflection on other aspects of that school,” she said. I guess that means no transfer.