College Rankings Off the Gridiron

It’s college football season. I will journey to Muncie tonight to see if Ball State can maintain momentum from last year’s glory season. IU begins its latest rebuilding in a renovated Memorial Stadium (also tonight), while Purdue and Notre Dame open up on Saturday.

No Heisman Trophy candidates (the award goes to the best player in the college game) are likely to emerge from the state schools. For those teams that do possess star individuals, the public relations machine rolls into high gear as the season evolves.

Now, I’ll get to the point. College rankings (most famously by U.S. News & World Report) are taking on the same slant, with longtime Anderson University President James Edwards noting that personal letters from colleagues and glossy magazines from marketing departments touting various college and university achievements are becoming the norm in the reputation-building game.

Edwards, in that early 2008 BizVoice higher education roundtable, deadpanned that he "developed tremendous skills as a critic of rankings until we were more highly regarded." But, like those top players or teams, high rankings are celebrated while lower evaluations are downplayed.

Getting to the point, Part II: On Wednesday, Washington Monthly magazine released its own rankings, firing away at U.S. News in the process. A press release stated in part: "Whereas U.S. News relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of money and prestige … (we) rank schools based on their contributions to society."

The three categories in the new entry:

  • Social mobility — recruiting and graduating low-income students
  • Research — producing cutting-edge scholarship and Ph.Ds
  • Service — encouraging students to give something back to their country

Top Indiana schools appear to be Notre Dame (No. 19 in the national university category) and Earlham (No. 38 among liberal arts colleges). We’d like to see your thoughts on rankings in general, as well as this latest effort.

Full rankings are available here.