It's college rankings season, and no one has more of a love-hate relationship with these annual lists than academia -- except maybe parents.
Don't get me wrong; data is great. As a parent on the college search myself, it is gratifying to have hard facts and boxes to check. But some commercial lists employ questionable methodology, and the plain truth is that whether a student will thrive at a particular school cannot be determined by an institution's national ranking.
Rather, some of the most valuable attributes of colleges and universities are the hardest to measure. An excellent report this week from the New York Times ranked economic diversity among our nation's campuses, which is important information for families. But other vital considerations are virtually "unrankable."
And so, with irony noted, and no small amount of unscientific methodology applied, here is my own ranking of five critical unrankables:
- Commitment to teaching: It may seem obvious, but great professors are the central component of a great education. And while there is data on the number of books and papers faculty publish, it is harder to measure professors' true commitment to the art of teaching. Passionate educators and strong student-faculty relationships forge deep knowledge and connections that set students up for long-term success.
Students are individuals, and universities are very different from one another. The "best" school on a list just might be the wrong choice for an individual student. The trick is using the data to make an educated guess about fit. How? I'd suggest doing it the old fashioned way -- talk to people, ask questions, visit campuses, draw your own conclusions. Over time, I have learned the best predictor is often a student's instincts about which school feels right. I look forward to hearing your suggestions on other college factors that might just outweigh the rankings.