April 7, 2008

U.S. News rankings

Like many faculty, I'm of two minds about the U.S. News rankings. On the one hand, it can bring recognition to the work of colleagues. In particular, there are three programs in my department that have had successful grant writers, and they all contribute to the rankings of my own college in the graduate-school issue from a few weeks ago. My dean celebrated that ranking, and properly so. While U.S. News is a limited slice of research life, it's one slice.

Then I look north a few hours, to colleagues in Gainesville, where the University of Florida ranking among colleges of education dropped. That's not due to anything that faculty did (or didn't do) but how the University of Florida has changed its reporting of extramural grants.

And if we look even more broadly, we all know that the limited slice of U.S. News rankings doesn't address the quality of our graduates. Like my fellow blogger Kevin Carey (of Education Sector), I think large swaths of higher ed's mission are ignored by U.S. News. including student accomplishments. Unlike Carey, I am skeptical that quantitative rankings are much good here. Someone scoring dissertations for their conformity with standard psychological report formats (which colleges of education have inherited as the default) would have scored my own dissertation miserably, because I wrote a history dissertation. Someone looking for nuances of archival analysis would probably find many education dissertations lacking, because few are historical.

I hope others would acknowledge that one cannot honestly score dissertations by themselves in any meaningful way. If so, what about undergraduate work? Hmmn...

... and that's where the column in Inside Higher Ed today came from. Welcome to readers who have traipsed over here from the column. Look around, subscribe to the RSS feed, and enjoy yourself!

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Posted in The academic life on April 7, 2008 12:23 AM |