Aug 3, 2012

Forbes ranks Colleges—Again

Haverford College
For the fifth consecutive year, Forbes Magazine trotted out its sorry attempt to compete with Princeton Review and US News and World Report for attention in the annual rankings wars. And number five is no better, useful, or accurate than numbers one through four.

Still it’s embarrassing to see how many publications rise to the bait and run the list. Even more embarrassing are the press releases from colleges basking in the glory of so much as a mention.  

Curiously gloating over its rivals, the University of Virginia seriously reports an unexplained jump from 46 to 36 in this year’s ranking, taking time to note in its press release the standings of competing public institutions—the College of William & Mary (40), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (47), UCLA (45), and UC Berkeley (50).  Could it be that more Cavaliers signed on with or

Happily, most of the Forbes top ten colleges ignored the honor and didn’t dignify the list with as much as a web note.  For their part, Princeton (1), Yale (5), and Columbia (8) were much more concerned about alumnae performance in the Olympics.

Only Pomona College uncharacteristically lent credibility to the ranking by issuing a release announcing its number nine spot on the list.

But did the college issuing releases bother to look at the methodology? Even with 16 pages of self-justifying blather, Forbes can’t get beyond the fact that the most of the data used to generate their list has little validity. (17.5%)? (15%)? Who’s Who in America (10%)? And what sense does it make to lump major research institutions with liberal arts colleges in the same ranking?

For the record, is a compilation of opinions shown to be largely from very happy students OR very UNhappy students—not much in between. And, if anyone would bother to look, RateMyProfessors is becoming increasingly obsolete as a rating tool as colleges create and post their own private rating websites (see Stanford's site for a good example).   

Serious students don’t have time or care enough to post on multiple ratings of professors unless they’re related or have an axe to grind.

Equally ridiculous as a serious evaluation tool, invites readers to self-report salaries. Not only is there no possible way to judge the accuracy of this information, but it also usually represents a very small and select group of recent graduates.

And Who’s Who is a vanity listing geared toward selling books. 

Sadly even the government information Forbes uses for key metrics can be inaccurate as Haverford College discovered this year.  After dropping from No. 7 to No. 27 for no obvious reason, Haverford found the federal database on which Forbes relies for college graduation rates had an error.  Because of a data entry mistake, Haverford was wrongly evaluated based on 55 percent  instead of the actual 88 percent graduation rate.

Last year, the folks at Northeastern University took a whack at the Forbes methodology after the university placed close to the bottom of the ranking (where it continues to stand) because of its unique and highly successful co-op program. It’s too bad more college communities don’t publically go after Forbes for the same reasons.

So for what it’s worth, DC area institutions didn’t fare too well on the Forbes rankings. Other than UVa and W&M, only Washington & Lee (15), Georgetown (38), and the Naval Academy (44—mysteriously down from 17) made it within the “top” 50 colleges in America.

 In a separate report, the Naval Academy was also named as one of the top 10 “best buys,” on a list humorously biased toward schools charging no tuition, where James Madison University (38) outranks UVa (39) as one of 100 colleges offering a quality education at an affordable price.

No comments:

Post a Comment