As mentioned last week US News and World Report has come out with their listings. I know they are wrong. They have to be because my alma mater, the University of Illinois, came out ahead (41) of the University of Texas (47). I've seen both and I'll take Austin anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And doesn't a number 1 football team count for anything?
I went to the web site of the magazine. A side note here--there are three news magazines in the US and US News and World Report is the smallest so I place them in bottom tier of their group. Dead last in my ranking system.
But back to the web site. After a cursory look I couldn't find any information on how they determine their ranking. Mentioned this to a friend and somehow he did but I didn't so this is from memory.
Endowments--seems a lot of weight is given to alumni giving. This is naturally going to rank the private schools higher since most alumni of public schools give nothing, I mean nothing, to their schools. I mean, what are taxpayers for? I went to two public universities--the University of Illinois and the University of Vienna. Haven't heard a word from them in 30 years. Went to Stanford and Northwestern for a bunch of bad seminars and my mailbox is clogged with junk from them. If alumni giving is a criteria, this ranking is a joke.
Class size--who cares? At large universities, the professor gives a lecture to 200 students and then you meet with teaching assistants to discuss the lecture. This probably drives the 'class size' criteria right off the charts. But the classes I remember were the large lecture halls with the best professors. So what if you're sitting with 200 other people? These guys were good. I'd rather get first hand information from a great professor surrounded by 200 people than some mediocre professor in a class of 25.
Location--Univerisity of Illinois or University of Texas. Location wise and night life wise, UT wins. Hook 'em. I assume some of these editors visited the sites but maybe not.
Cost--obviously a factor to parents but apparently not to editors since private schools OCCUPIED the top 20 spots. Not 50% or 80% but 100%. How stupid is that?
Financial Aid--we've been through this. If you want to graduate with $150,000 in student debt to attend a top 20 school, go ahead. Not me.
Admissions--public schools are under different pressures than private schools. In Texas the courts knocked down breaks for minorities so the legislature came up with letting the top 10% graduates of ANY high school automatic acceptance to any state school. That has to drag down SAT scores. This is something Stanford and any private school doesn't have to worry about.
Freshman Retention Rate--who cares? Just because you stuck around that means you had a great experience? Illinois, when I went, would always over admit because they knew that X% were going to quit or flunk out. In fact, they tried to flunk you out early because they knew you were going to flunk out eventually if you were leaning that way. Freshman rhetoric was designed to make you quit.
Student body--and that academic buzzword, diversity. Hey, the University of Illinois was founded to serve the people of Illinois just as Texas is for Texans, Iowa for Iowans and so on. Stanford gets people from all over so their 'diversity' rating by definition is going to be higher which I guess is good in the ranking biz.
Enough. Because here is the real reason these rankings don't mean anything. An example--Rice University is ranked number 20 in the top 20 of the US News and World Report Rankings. The Times Higher Education Supplement (Times as in the London Times, the most prestigious newpaper in the universe) ranked Rice at NUMBER 150. Did these guys even go to the same place? How does one publication rank a place Number 20 and another publication Number 150? I don't know and I don't care because these rankings don't mean a thing.
What matters is what you get out of your college experience--good or bad.
The absolute single best bit of advice I ever got, I got from the University of Illinois. Freshman week and I went to see my counselor. Had my course catalog, three ring binder, ready to go over my courses with my wise sage. Walked in and they guy was yelling into the phone with a picture of Chairman Mao (this was the Sixties) behind his desk. Took one look at me with a what the hell do want look and hung up. I started to say something, he held up his hand to stop me and said " I got to go. You figure it out. You're on your own." And with that he was gone, probably to blow up some building somewhere since he was the head of the local SDS chapter. For those not in the know, SDS was the Weathermen who were the biggest bunch of left wing bad guys in sixties. Don't know what happened to him, probably in jail or dead. But I took his advice--from then on I was on my own and I figured it out.
Don't think that was a criteria for US News and World Report but I owe Illinois for that one.