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Ranking Colleges Based on Worth

October 28, 2013

One of today’s front page articles in the NYTimes has a headline with a disturbing announcement: “Lists That Rank College’s Value Are On The Rise”. The article includes a link to a graphic that perfectly illustrates the folly of this enterprise: it displays six different lists with five different colleges ranked #1 with the only overlap being service academies which charge no tuition whatsoever making their value-per-dollar-spent immeasurable.  Among the obvious outcomes that one can expect are that lower cost colleges generally have higher rankings, colleges that focus on engineering and science generally have higher rankings, and selective colleges, whose graduates may be hard-wired for success given existing connections, also tend to have higher rankings.

As the article notes in one of the middle paragraphs:

“…there is no agreement on how to measure the value of a college, and there is no agreement, or anything even close, on what value is in the first place.”

But this is not stopping the Obama administration from moving into a market-based approach. They plan to develop a ranking system and use it as the basis for meting out federal loans. To gather information on what constitutes value the USDOE intends to convene a series of town meetings. This whole thing is likely to generate the kind of information the Chamber of Commerce crowd is looking for whereby employability in the private sector will trump employability in the public sector thereby diminishing the loans for the group of people who are most idealistic to begin with. Specifically, if “value” is defined as “earning power/cost”, the kind of simplistic calculation that is likely if one canvasses the public, then the lower ranked colleges will likely be schools that graduate a lot of social workers, teachers, and nurses will fare poorly in any ranking system based on income…. or State funded schools where undergraduate costs re skyrocketing because of state budget cuts…  and the federal dollars will not go toward students seeking those jobs but instead go to students seeking work in technology-related and business fields.

Here’s the ultimate irony in all of this: the rankings of the colleges attended by three of the technology icons— Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg— won’t be phased by their earnings because they never finished college. Oh, and those four Waltons who are among the ten wealthiest people in America, their colleges would be affected… and I’m sure their college degree made a big difference in their incomes.

Here’s my perspective: the Obama administration should confer with Buddhist scholars and ask them to rank jobs based on Right Livelihood and use THAT ranking to determine the allocation of funds. I’m sure with the assistance of someone in an economics department a mathematical algorithm can be worked out. Under such a ranking system I doubt that service academies and schools sending alumni into business schools will fare as well as colleges graduating teachers and nurses.


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