Ernest Owens | Rank your own damn school


The Ernest Opinion | U.S. News & World Report will never see what I see in Penn


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Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Photo by Ernest Owens


Last year, I went to a SPEC-sponsored screening at the Rave to see a comedy with six female leads. Many people had snubbed the movie and early reviews for the film claimed it was downright mediocre.

Despite this, I gave the movie a shot and fell in love with its slapstick humor. This little comedy called “Bridesmaids” went on to earn over $288 million in the worldwide box office and garnered numerous Academy Award nominations.

You might ask, how did those movie critics slip up and make such an egregious mistake? Aren’t they paid for their good taste in films?

Analytical missteps happen every day, but some have a bigger effect than others. The latest faux pas made by “experts” was splashed over headlines two weeks ago when U.S. News & World Report revealed its annual national college ranking. This year, Penn fell from an unhappy fifth place to eighth while that little school in Cambridge, Mass. took the cake for the zillionth year in a row.

U.S. News bases its rankings on peer assessments, graduation rates, retention rates and faculty resources (like class size), as well as how selective a school is, its financial resources, record of alumni giving and how high school counselors perceive the school.

In other words: factors that most colleges don’t have control over. I doubt that Penn’s endowment will ever surpass Harvard’s. Our acceptance rate is also unlikely to dip as sharply and dramatically as Columbia’s has in the last few years.

These rankings cry politics — plain and simple. They don’t possess a single fiber of credibility and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Rather than striving for journalistic truth, U.S. News operates a business designed to help colleges market themselves in an increasingly competitive world.

Its college ranking is the newsprint equivalent of roadside billboards advertising colleges.

Yes, I admit that it was glamorous when we were on top. But it’s high time we stop playing Russian roulette with these petty figures. Instead of moping over eighth place, ask yourself a serious question: has Penn really gotten worse?

I don’t think so and I doubt you do either.

In many ways, Penn is the best it’s ever been. How many colleges can boast a no-loan financial aid policy for undergraduates, some of the most impressive (and newly renovated) dining halls or a president that can stand on her head? Not many.

Over two years ago, I had to make a choice between Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Penn, among others. Initially, I was infatuated with the thought of rowing in the Chuck and writing for the Crimson. I didn’t really consider whether it would be the right school for me.

It took a serious phone call with a former high school classmate who attends Harvard to make me think twice. Now, when I think about all the things I’ve achieved at Penn, I sometimes wonder whether that school in New England would have allowed me to do the same. With its old-money class and culture considered, I seriously doubt it.

When I picked Penn, I had no doubt that I would be able to find and mentor middle schoolers in West Philadelphia with a socioeconomic background similar to mine. Here, I have the opportunity to relate my story to children and tell them that they have just as much of a shot of attending this fine institution as I did.

National rankings can’t reflect the invaluable experiences that come from moments like this — and never will. It’s up to Quakers to attest to Penn’s brilliance. Let’s not let U.S. News define us. Let’s rank our own damn school.

Ernest Owens is a College junior from Chicago, Ill. His email address is owense@sas.upenn.edu. “The Ernest Opinion” appears every Friday. Toss him a tweet @MrErnestOwens.

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