Tuesday, September 12, 2006

College Rankings and Juicy Gossip

It's that time of the year again when higher education Home Pages across the land sprout bright banners proclaiming their top-of-the-line standings in the latest college rankings.

So perhaps it's time for us to 'fess up ==> The Gateway has never posted any "news items" related to high rankings awarded to any HBCUs, and it never will. Why not? Because we assume that most of our readers understand that college rankings are little more than tabulated gossip. As gossip, they are fun to read and for the same reasons that Academy Awards TV shows are fun to watch, even if you haven't seen any of the nominated movies. In other words, you don't have to be an alum of Hampton, Howard, Morehouse, Spelman, or FAMU to want to find out how they stand in the lastest rankings -- who's up, who's down, and who's won or lost the most bragging rights.

We assume that most of our readers would be appalled if the Federal government's "No Child Left Behind" program measured the quality of local K-12 schools by using the kind of crude, simplistic measures employed by U.S News and World Reports and other magazines to rank the nation's colleges and universities. On the other hand, we know that most of our readers would also have to concede (confess?) that these crude, simplistic criteria sometimes provide surprisingly profound insights, i.e., when they award high status to the readers' own alma maters, to their children's alma maters, or to their friends' alma maters ... :-)

Finally, we assume that our readers understand that the primary reason why magazines publish annual rankings is to to sell more magazines. It takes three to five years for significant educational reforms to show tangible results. Consequently, there should be little or no change in the relative standings of the nation's colleges and universities from one year to the next -- no matter which criteria were used. But no change is no news, and no news is bad news for magazine sales. So no one should be surprised that the magazines somehow find a way to shake up their rankings from year to year. And these quasi-random shake-ups sometimes produce results that are truly outrageous -- the defining hallmark of really juicy gossip!!!

Speaking of truly outrageous, have you seen the latest rankings published by ... ???

Note: Readers interested in comprehensive, scholarly critiques of the methodological shortcomings of magazine rankings are referred to the "College and University Rankings" pages (http://www.library.uiuc.edu/edx/rankings.htm)
maintained by the Education and Social Science Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)