Credit: Idil Demirdag

GROUP THINK is The Daily Pennsylvanian’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.

This week's question: With the results of several college rankings being released this week, do you think college rankings are harmful or beneficial to prospective students? Should universities care about their ranking? Why or why not?

Jessica Li | Road Jess Traveled

In general, I've always thought college rankings were pretty useless and detrimental, and I think this article solidified that belief for me. Though no one can dispute the huge influence that these rankings have, I believe college rankings are far more harmful to prospective students than beneficial. The simple fact is that rankings are amalgamations of a lot of little, technical factors that are not important in ultimately choosing a college, especially factors like SAT score and GPA. Learning more about campus culture, individual departments and how you can fit into the overall environment of a school are all things that are far more important than any test score, and these are exactly the things that rankings do not reflect. As Furda said, though it may be nice to have Penn recognized as a "top" school, each individual student should look into themselves before trusting U.S. News and World Report. When it comes down to it, any peer institution of Penn is going to be a great, top-notch school. At that point, it's all up in the air — a student should trust him/herself before trusting an ambiguous numerical chart.

In a perfect world, I think universities shouldn't have to care about their rankings. This might allow for a more open and accessible admissions season in which admissions officers wouldn't have to worry about the most minute parts of a student's application just because they must be wary of rankings. As the article also mentioned, universities wouldn't favor the overly privileged over other students, something that an SAT score may reflect. However, I do understand the importance of rankings in terms of endowment and necessary exposure to a university. Though I think universities may never stop caring about their rankings from a monetary standpoint, I do believe that universities should not have to care at all.

Alex Silberzweig | Brutally Honest

College rankings don’t quantify or tell us how good colleges truly are relative to one another. Most of what makes one college more highly ranked than another are alumni donations. A university with a plentitude of resources that gets just a dollar less than another school is not necessarily worse off than that other school. In fact, the university with a slightly lower ranking may actually be better off. 

Think about it: How did that college get all of those donations? A lot of alumni who enjoyed their undergraduate experiences may not feel naturally motivated to give up money that they could spend on anything else. What motivates them to give money to their alma maters are various promotional events that are essentially forms of self-advertisement by the university. Colleges often divert funds that could be used for research or financial aid to simply portray and run the university like a business.

Carlos Arias Vivas | Convos With Carlos

To prospective students, college rankings are undeniably one of the factors they take into consideration. People look at these rankings, and sometimes they use this a defense against others who might not attend a school as prestigious. This is very harmful and is not what the rankings should be used for.

It is nice insight to see where the strength lies in terms of academics for each school, but it is not justifiable to base the value of the college solely on its ranking. Every school on a prospective students’ list should be schools that appeal to them based on major and the strength that school has in a particular discipline. It is more important to look at the resources, internship opportunities and types of jobs alumni go into after graduation.

When discussing college rankings, there is no denying that the line between objectivity and subjectivity is very small. Due to this, they become “faux” rankings in which they are not used properly. For example, people have always regarded the upper-tier Ivies as Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University, denoting them the "HYP" schools. Regardless of Princeton’s consistent place in the No. 1 position for seven years in USNWR, some people will still say Harvard is still the best, because of the ingrained reputation Harvard has since its founding in 1636.

For universities, it is imperative for them to get as many applicants they can. A significant number of applicants lowers the acceptance rate, which will in turn move the university’s spot up the list. Although it is unethical to appeal to students that will not even qualify for admission, other Ivies and elite colleges do the same to get on top. Ultimately, colleges work as business models, and students are pawns in this game that perpetuates these faux college rankings.

Jacquelyn Sussman | The Objectivist

It’s pretty irresponsible — if not outright stupid — to decide to apply to a college solely based on its ranking. Rankings can be misleading, sometimes inaccurate, and are ultimately subject to the inherent biases of their authors, especially in terms of which factors are determined to be relevant and how they are weighted. 

But this doesn’t mean rankings shouldn’t be considered. I’ll put it in economics terms (after all, this is Penn). 

Let’s assume we students are rational decision-makers. Accordingly, as such in today’s day and age, we must analyze all the data available to us when we make decisions. In deciding to go to college, we chose to incur the cost of our foregone income had we entered the workforce because we determined that a Bachelor’s degree is more valuable. Just how valuable that bachelor’s degree is does, to some extent, depend on where that degree is from (let’s not sugarcoat it; going to a top-100 school does open more doors than not). Thus, to maximize the return on our investment in pursuing higher education, we must consider the available data on how different colleges stack up and make decisions accordingly. 

In looking at many different college rankings, one can acquire a ballpark range of how certain colleges rate and some general indication of the academic caliber of certain institutions, which is irrefutably beneficial for both prospective students and universities. Of course, these rankings do not include important factors such as personal fit or campus culture, which are factors that should be considered after these preliminary decisions about academic level are made.

Rankings are far from perfect. As erroneous and subjective they may be, there is no reason why students should not surround themselves with all opinions about a school and make the best decisions with the most amount of information.

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