has newsweek produced the stupidest college ranking ever?
As long time readers know, I believe that most college rankings are garbage because they use dubious measures of performance and quality. Also, the leading magazines tend to cherry pick data so that a handful of schools (H/Y/P and Stanford) are always on top. For example, there’s an old Slate article on how Cal Tech, perhaps the most elite science college in the world, routinely gets shafted. Then we get to the issue of bad data. College administrators are often sloppy or dishonest when submitting data for these rankings.
Bad data, favoritism, and a lack of logic. How could it get any worse? You can depend on Newsweek and the Daily Beast to rise to the occasion. They’ve now produced a ranking of the least rigorous colleges. In their own words:
To pick out the least challenging of the nation’s top colleges, we considered schools that admit students with an average Critical Reading/Math SAT score of at least 1250. We then took into account student opinion, quality and quantity of professors (which directly impacts challenge and workload), and drop-out rate. The total score for each school consisted of several components: College Prowler‘s “Most Manageable Workload” score (40%), student-to-faculty ratio (25%; from the National Center for Education Statistics), and an analysis of student-posted evaluations on RateMyProfessors.com (25%; generated by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, an education think tank). Additionally, we plotted each school’s average SAT score for admitted students against its freshman retention rate (percent of first-years who return the following fall; from NCES) to estimate the degree to which each college’s actual retention rate differed from what the correlation would predict. We took the results as a measure of relative ease or difficulty, and factored this in as 10% of the overall score.
You read that right: RateMyProf scores – people voluntarily griping or praising profs. I’d flunk anyone who used that data in an intro research seminar. Some of the data is puzzling. The ratio of freshman SAT’s and retention? Very ambiguous. Retention may be due to many things aside from rigor in the class, such as financial aid or location of the school. Also, schools may teach hard material but allow people to hide or surmount the problems. For example, MIT has a fairly high retention rate because the freshman year is either pass (C or higher) or “no record” (D or F).
The results of the “least rigorous” study? Many top notch engineering schools, which most observers recognize as being very demanding, make the list of the 25 least rigorous schools, such as Rensselear Polytechnic, Illinois-Urbana, and UC Berkeley.* Other schools, which are not known as being easy grades, such as Wisconsin-Madison and Hopkins make the list. This isn’t fun, lighthearted journalism. It’s an embarrassment.
* Disclaimer: I’m a Berkeley graduate. I studied the extremely easy topics of math and engineering. And boy, was it easy!