Grading Institutions of Higher Learning 

by Cameron Williams 

For decades school rankings have impacted how we view higher education—but is the data unreliable?

U.S. News & World Report recently released its 2023 rankings for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges. The results were not shocking with only minor changes from last year’s line-up, though Columbia University dropped from No. 2 to No. 18 due to providing false information the previous year. With seniors beginning to create their college applications and scout for colleges, an important question arises: Should students even take these rankings seriously? 

U.S. News & World Report infamously uses flawed methodology regarding their rankings for universities and colleges. Only 5% of their approach factors in how much their graduates are in debt due to student loans, and there is no factor in their methodology for how much a school costs. On top of that, U.S. News’ ranking does not factor in the employment rate of a university’s graduates. The other 95% of their ranking is based on nearly meaningless metrics, like “Academic Reputation,” standardized-testing scores, and the rate of alumni donations, which are skewed towards wealthy institutions. So, the only thing these rankings seem to reflect is the size of a university’s wallet, not the quality of its education or its graduates’ career outcomes.

Forbes Magazine has taken a different approach to ranking universities and colleges. Forbes’ criteria is mainly composed of factors such as alumni salary, debt, and return on investment. Forbes’ system has led to surprising outcomes like the placement of the University of California, Berkeley as the No. 1 university in 2022. The current United States educational climate has forced students to take the financial factors of a college education into greater consideration than in past decades. So, while U.S. News & World Report’s rankings might be useful for those who can pay out of pocket for college, Forbes’ rankings are much more practical to the average applicant. 

While the Forbes’ ranking improves on many of the flaws of U.S. News & World Report, their results should not be used to decide on a college. No student should base their college application or choice on a ranking. The only person that knows what college is best for you is yourself, not the editors of Forbes or U.S. News & World Report. College rankings are a very useful starting point for your college search. However, you must do your own research to ensure that the college you attend is the best fit for your career goals. I wish you all the best of luck. We got this!

About Cameron Williams

Cameron Williams is a senior at Richwoods High School, where he is a part of The Shield Newspaper, IB Program, and Marine Corps JROTC. He has always felt a passion for writing due to its endless possibilities for self-expression. Outside of school, he loves to read, exercise, and spend time with his two dogs, Daisy and Gracie.