Tag: u.s. news and world report

Hooray for the Rankings!

The following is cross-posted from SeeThruEdu.com, a new blog analyzing higher education:

Heaven knows there are oodles of problems with American higher education – and you’ll get them all thoroughly dissected, diagnosed, and wellness plans delivered at SeeThruEdu – but I want to start my blogging here on a positive note. At least, a relatively positive note: American higher education is way closer to a free market than our moribund elementary and secondary system, and there’s no better sign of that than the oft-maligned U.S. News and World Report college rankings released last week.

Just like higher education generally, the U.S. News rankings have huge problems. Heck, Emory University admitted to having sent inflated SAT and ACT scores, as well as class ranks, to the publication for years. As a result, in the latest rankings Emory moved…not one bit. The school stayed as number 20 among “national universities,” and U.S. News apparently just accepted the data Emory submitted this time based on the school having “confirmed” them. More broadly, the rankings are based far more on inputs such as endowment funds, and dubious academic reputation surveys, than measures of what students actually learn.

But the good news isn’t the perfection of the U.S. News rankings. It’s what their very existence signifies: Higher ed consumers have real power, and institutions are sufficiently independent that they can both compete with one another and specialize in the needs of different students. It’s why not only do the U.S. News rankings exist, they are essentially the magazine’s flagship publication.

And college rankings are hardly restricted to U.S. News. Countless rankings and reviews are out there, giving prospective students and their parents myriad ways to slice and dice their options. No doubt the best of these – because of who’s in charge of them – comes from fellow SeeThruEdu blogger, and higher ed gadfly extraordinaire, Richard Vedder, whose Forbes.com rankings assess schools using alumni success and costs. The Princeton Review will tell you where students have their noses most to the grindstone, or most obscured by beer-filled Solo cups. And the Associated Press just profiled two new entrants, one which ranks schools based on “revealed preference” – which schools students choose when accepted to multiple institutions – and one based on alumni satisfaction. And there are many, many more!

Unfortunately, part of the reason rankings are in such incredible abundance is that there is way too much consumer power in higher ed, if by power we mean money. Basically, students can demand all sorts of extravagant things (I need my massages and water park!) because third-parties –  most notably the federal government – give them wads of cash to do so. Indeed, higher education is massively inefficient as a result of humongous subsidies both directly to schools and to students. But that will be the subject of many, far less giddy posts from me in the future. For now, a bit of a happy note: Hooray for the college rankings! Things in higher education could actually be worse!

Why I Love, and Hate, American Higher Education

Today, the annual U.S. News and World Report “Best Colleges” guide came out, and as always it is a slightly celebratory occasion for me. Though I agree with many people who critique the guide for its debatable methodology and implicit assumption that all schools can be cleanly ranked from best to worst, the simple fact that the issue exists makes me happy. When you spend the bulk of your time analyzing moribund, monopolistic, K-12 schooling, it’s just refreshing to dive into an education ocean where guides are abundant because consumers have plentiful, powerful choice. It also doesn’t hurt that, in stark contrast to elementary and secondary schooling, the United States seems to be the envy of the world in higher ed.

Unfortunately, my higher ed enthusiasm always ebbs fast, and aggravation quickly slips in, because there is copious, taxpayer-funded rot under America’s abundant ivy. The reality is, while being much more dynamic and consumer-driven than socialized K-12 schooling isn’t a bad thing, it’s hardly a major accomplishment. And as a new report from the Goldwater Institute reminds me, while college students are empowered to choose, they are empowered with massive taxpayer subsidies, both in the form of aid directly to students and government funding directly to schools. The result is major, painful distortions of the market, including the ever-growing administrative bloat detailed in Goldwater’s new paper:

Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent.

So today, celebrate that we have a major sector of education that is at least partially market based. And then, like me, get aggravated by all the government funding and control that renders so much of it a waste.