Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last year the infamous U.S. News and World Report college rankings, as well as other similar rankings, had prompted Al Bloom and many other college presidents to publish an official statement of disapproval. Yet another set of rankings has been published, and Swarthmore lands near the top again: but this time, for different reasons.
Forbes.com and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) have published “America’s Best Colleges 2008”, where the College places fourth behind Princeton University, California Institute of Technology, and Harvard University. In the US News & World Report ranking, Swarthmore places as the third college, behind Williams and Amherst. Universities are ranked separately.
CCAP offers an alternative set of rankings that its director, Richard Vedder, claims is “monopolized by one publication, U.S. News and World Report.” In its methodology report, the staff at CCAP emphasizes that their rankings emphasize student reactions and consumer concerns such as debt burden.
Indeed. Instead of relying on peer assessment by other colleges and rates of alumni giving, CCAP turns to student assessments at RateMyProfessor.com. Instead of relying on class size and student selectivity, they look at copies of Who’s Who in America and recipients of national academic prizes to determine the quality of its alumni faculty.
Despite these changes, the College has already stated that they will not support college rankings as they are.
“We commit not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.”
But there are some surprises on the list at Forbes.com because of its changes in methodology. Centre College in Danville, KY ranks 13th on the list, with high ratings for student satisfaction, alumni and faculty success, and debt incurred after graduation. As a student, Josh Stevens, says on the site: “The whole community—students, faculty and staff—comes together, and it just sort of hugs you and lifts you up to your best potential.”
And Northwestern University is at 11th place, above the University of Chicago, Pomona College, and Brown University.
Vedder admits in his commentary that still “there is an inherent absurdity in ranking colleges and universities with mock precision from first to 569th.” However, CCAP stands behind their results, which despite correlating with U.S. News and World Report “well above .60,” presents a much different picture of undergraduate schools than other publications.
Al Bloom and other presidents might support this departure in that at least it promotes discussion.
Their statement, after all, ends with this: “We recognize that no degree of protest may make [rankings] soon disappear, and hope, therefore, that further discussion will help shape them in ways that will press us to move in ever more socially and educationally useful directions.”