Our View: Review college-ranking lists with big grain of salt

September 12th, 2017 6:17 pm

Odds are pretty high — even stratospheric — that if you ask local college students why they picked the school they are enrolled in, they would not cite the school’s spot on the annual U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings.

To be fair, they are equally unlikely to credit their higher education choices to rankings by Forbes, the Economist or any of a myriad of other sources that have jumped on the college-ranking bandwagon in the last few years.

No, they are much more likely to give you three reasons for the place they enrolled:

• It felt right. This is usually the most likely. Maybe those at the mega-colleges like Harvard and Yale spend a lifetime gunning for admission to their dream schools. But most students at local institutions make their choice after a visit to the campus, chats with students and faculty, and tours of facilities. It makes sense. They want a place that suits them as well as their ambitions.

• It had the right major with the right focus and right opportunity. This can be a close second around here, and can sometimes even top the first reason. Students who know where they want to go career-wise are particularly likely to point to such qualities. King’s has an engineering program that let’s some finish their schooling at the University of Notre Dame; Wilkes has a business school named after a prominent New York banker; Misericordia works to arrange ample clinical opportunities in the health care field. The list goes on.

• Cost. This is more likely to be cited by those attending public institutions, but can apply to private ones as well. Many Luzerne County Community College students are there because of affordability, and the fact that a growing number of local four-year schools will accept LCCC credits in certain fields makes it that much more alluring. Penn State campuses in Hazleton and Lehman Township have long offered the chance to save for the first few years, then head to University Park.

So, sure, check out the latest rankings from U.S. News & World Report, released Tuesday, though be warned it is not as simple as 1,2,3. The “Best Colleges” website itself notes “U.S. News provides nearly 50 different types of numerical rankings and lists to help students narrow their college search,” showing no irony in claiming 50 different rankings actually simplify things.

Check out the rankings by Money magazine, Forbes, Princeton Review, or any of the other lists out there.

But do it with a grain — and maybe a whole block — of salt. As officials from area schools note almost every time such rankings come out, they are invariably incomplete because of data used, importance given to different factors, and factors omitted.

More importantly, such ratings are made without a crucial piece of information:

How you feel when you visit the campus, talk to faculty and students, and get a look at the program offerings in your chosen major.

It’s your education, your money and — in the end — entirely your choice.

— Times Leader

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