Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Democratic Assessment

The silly U.S. NEWS ranking of colleges and universities is challenged by the new ranking by THE WASHINGTON MONTHLY. There the standards are community service (including military service), production of Ph.D.s and so useful research, and contribution to students’ social mobility. Following Tocqueville, we can call these standards the characteristically democratic ones. We lovers of liberal education might fault the neglect of the Great Books, knowledge for its own sake, or, more generally, cultivation of the soul. But still, the anti-elitst standards do, to some extent, correct the empty snobbery of our politically correct enemies. At the very least, this survey reminds us of the heroic work sometimes done at our historically African-American institutions.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Yes, rankings are silly but they get a lot of attention, including attention from colleges and universities themselves. Has there been any systematic investigation of the impact of these rankings? Does anybody know?

For example, we know that student aid has become less based on need, more based on merit. Is this largely an effort to drive up schools’ SAT/GRE profiles and nurture snob appeal? Have cost increases been driven by efforts to win points for climbing walls and lavish dorms?

Have the USN&WR rankings had any positive effects?

Competition in the ranking business is a good sign, don’t you think? It might lead to real criticism and more awareness of what actually goes on in the Higher Learning. We might even imagine a public discussion of its aims.


Take a look at this, which doesn’t of course answer all your questions, but may be a beginning.

Joe - Thanks. I’ve been meaning to read the reviewer’s book as well.

I agree that the competition is a good thing, and that the American system of higher education is the most genuinely diverse one in the world. The main threat to that diversity, of course, is the need to be accredited.
It’s even good that the correlation between rankings and actual quality of education offered is pretty weak. You can screw up high school, choke on standardized tests, be pretty darn poor, and still go to a solid college in our country. My own view is that MIT and even Georgia Tech are better than Harvard, and lots of small colleges that are less selective than the Ivies better still for actually being intellectually challenged etc.

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