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Monday, June 25, 2018

Columns

College rankings aren’t telling the whole story


The ranking of a college is based on what the college brings in, not by what it can do and produce. | Dana C. Jones/ The Cougar

We all want to be the best. The Cougars’ football victory makes us proud. UH’s score in the college rankings this week, however, left us far from No. 1.

The U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges ranking put the UH as number 192 in the nation. UH’s score can be perplexing; it’s not the win we were hoping for.

“I think we should rank higher because we have a good school and education,” said Spanish sophomore Maria Mendoza.

Mendoza said she thinks that with UH being in the fourth largest city, it should be higher on the list.

When you look at the factors used to decide the “Best Colleges,” it becomes clear that what makes UH great can hurt its ranking.

U.S. News relies on metrics such as students’ incoming SAT scores, alumni donations and faculty salaries. These are measurements of prestige, not opportunity. It’s measuring promising inputs, but not outputs, of success.

The U.S. News ranking rewards colleges for admitting wealthy students.

For example, SAT scores have a strong correlation with family income. Top-ranked Princeton and Yale both have more students from the top one percent of households ($650,000 per year or more) than from the bottom 60 percent ($65,000 a year or less).

The UH student body is closer to reflecting the community in terms of socioeconomic status. Fifty-four percent of UH students come from families in the bottom 60 percent of household income, and less than one percent of students come from the top 1 percent.

We should be proud to attend a university that actually reflects and serves the community.

“I think our rankings fail to reflect on how much the University devotes toward student success,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, in an email.

UH’s graduation rate is above the national average. Myrick Short said this is partially due to 45 percent of undergraduates receiving financial support in the form of scholarships and grants.  

UH ranks 89th nationally in terms of social mobility, according to another study, meaning that a degree from UH enables students to climb the income ladder. The study found that public schools like UH have the highest upward mobility rates because of a large population of low-income students and excellent earning outcomes.

About one-third of UH students from families in the bottom fifth income bracket end up in the top fifth by their early 30s. This ranking system rewards universities not just for success, but for access.

Elite colleges with fewer low-income students receive a lower social mobility ranking.

For example, Rice University ranks 14th on the U.S. News Best Colleges list. Only 20 percent of its students come from families in the bottom 60 percent of annual income, and almost 10 percent come from the top one percent. With fewer low-income students, Rice is nationally ranked 1,742th in terms of social mobility.

“Overall, university rankings only tell part of the story,” Myrick Short said.

Many individual UH programs place in the top of their fields in the U.S. News rankings.

The U.S. News has ranked three UH law programs in the top 10 for years. The online graduate education program ranks second; the undergraduate entrepreneurship program ranks sixth; and pharmacy, social work, industrial and manufacturing engineering and chemical engineering all rank in the top 50. The petroleum engineering program makes its first appearance in the rankings this year in the 12th slot.

The U.S. News Best Colleges rankings are a reflection of wealth and prestige. Individual program rankings can be far more informative of the quality of education than the college list. The overall “best college” ranking should be ignored. There are better ways to grade colleges on factors that matter to students who enroll for a better life.

Opinion columnist Alyssa Foley is a public relations junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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