August 18, 2010

What's In a Rank?

Dartmouth -- as well as pretty much every major college and university in the United States -- has anxiously awaited the recent release of rankings from US News and World Report (and to a lesser extent, Forbes). In a recent e-mail to alumni, Dartmouth's PR office boasted our ranking bump from eleventh place (for 2008, 2009 and 2010) to ninth place in 2011. Dartmouth also moved significantly up the ranks according to Forbes, who moved the College from the mid-90s to thirtieth place.

Over the next few days, we'll be considering the rankings, what they mean, and how important they really are. Just to start us off, here are a couple of important questions to consider:

  • What does Dartmouth's jump in ranking really mean?
  • How closely do prospective students observe ranking methodology?
  • Is the recent rank bump a tribute to President Kim's success at Dartmouth?


1 comment:

  1. The answer to the first question is closely related to the second.

    When I first saw the news, I looked at the methodology again to see if it had changed much, and it hasn't:

    "Reputation": 22.5%
    Graduation and freshman retention: 20%
    "Faculty resources": 20%
    Student selectivity: 15%
    Financial resources: 10%
    ..."Graduation rate performance": 7.5%
    Alumni giving rate: 5%

    So let's see...It's 22.5% word of mouth, about 35% money, 27.5% graduation rate and performance, and 15% how hard it is to get in.

    Basically I think the ranking means we're doing better financially, compared to peer institutions, than we did last year.

    Most students don't know this, because as far as they know, this intangible "best-ness" is something that is fairly measured, and in my opinion it isn't.

    According to Alexandra Robbins, author of The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, US News revised the rankings many times until HYP ended up on top, and there they remain to this day.

    So in a sense they mean exactly what it tells us, but I venture a guess that 90% of readers or more don't bother looking at the methodology, since all they see is an arbitrary number out of 100 with no subscores.

    I think the answer to the third question is a yes. Kim's presidency is bringing in more money and a better reputation. All of which is fine, and contributes to a higher USNWR rankings. But no more, and no less.