Some colleges don’t want to take
part in the peer assessment survey.
By WILL HANLON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — What’s in a rank? When it comes to ranking the top colleges in the nation, apparently there’s more to it than just a number.
A recently formed alliance of colleges, called the Annapolis Group, is choosing not to participate in a controversial part of the coveted U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges.”
After meeting in June, about 80 presidents and 71 academic deans of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges expressed intent not to participate in the annual ranking exercise, mainly because of one of the main aspects of the rankings: the peer assessment portion.
Weight of the peer assessment accounts for 25 percent of the school’s score, the largest single factor in determining a school’s rank under U.S. News’ criteria.
Hiram College is a member of the Annapolis group, and has chosen to opt out of the 2008 rankings.
Hiram President Dr. Thomas V. Chema said the main reason he did not participate this year is simple: “I wasn’t in a position to make good, solid judgments on all the other institutions.” He’s referring to the peer assessment.
There were, however, other reasons that Chema said made the rankings inaccurate. He said the rankings focus too much on the inputs instead of the outputs. “How does it fulfill its mission? How does it perform for its students? That’s a hard thing to measure, but something the rankings leave out.”
Chema said the rankings are “causing low income people to feel they can’t achieve an education at a private institution. It’s sending a message that somehow if you don’t go to Harvard or Yale your career is ruined. Fortunately, I think most young people are getting information from lots of different sources.”
Another negative aspect of the rankings, Chema said, is that some institutions are conducting political campaigns to increase their rankings. He said this is a waste of money by these institutions and a poor use of resources and energy that could be better used on students already attending their institutions.
“A Top 20 list might be a good way to sell magazines, but it isn’t a good way to provide students with information,” Chema said.
“I personally do not take them too seriously,” said Dr. David C. Sweet, president of Youngstown State University. Sweet imagines the 2008 rankings will be similar to what they have always been, with Princeton and Harvard near the top.
Sweet said one of the primary missions of YSU is that it is an open institution, which goes against the rankings that place weight on acceptance rate.
Ranking high on the list is a good “brag point for an institution,” he said. However, that’s not entirely a good thing. “Some people may be swayed by that, but that’s unfortunate. A prospective student may overlook a quality university.”
At the end of the day, Sweet said the rankings don’t mean much to him. “I’ll read about it in the paper, then move on.”
Sonya Lapikas, director of admissions at Thiel College, has mixed feelings about the rankings, including thinking the peer assessment part of the rankings is a little subjective.
While it does have some cons, Lapikas said the rankings do have pros — one is, being on the rankings gives a boost to a school’s reputation. “We do use [rankings] on our Web site and in our publication materials,” Lapikas said.
Lapikas said she’ll continue to participate in the surveys.
A different take
Slippery Rock University President Dr. Robert Smith has a positive opinion of the rankings.
“We’ve taken a very different view,” Smith said. “We’ve used [the ranking’s] criteria to help make our institution a better place.”
Smith said the rankings help ask the question, “How can we be a better university in the eyes of the public and ourselves?”
As for the controversial part of the rankings, Smith has no problem with the peer assessment.
“I’m willing to accept my peer assessment from my peers. I’m not offended by that,” Smith said. “People have an opinion of you, and it’s nice to have them articulate it to my face.”
Smith said that when it comes to assessing others, he only rates those institutions that he knows, and not the ones that he doesn’t. He said this is the fairest way of going about this part of the rankings.
Robert Morse, the director of data research at U.S. News and World Report, keeps a blog on the Web site devoted to the America’s Best College Rankings. In defense of the peer assessment portion of the rankings, Morse wrote: “We at U.S. News firmly believe the survey has significant value because it allows us to measure the ‘intangibles’ of a college that we can’t measure through statistical data. ... The peer survey is by nature subjective, but the technique of asking industry leaders to rate their competitors is a commonly accepted practice. The results from the peer survey also can act to level the playing field between private and public colleges.”
What students think
Brandon Masterman, 24, of Youngstown, just graduated in May from YSU. Masterman said rank made no difference when choosing YSU — he chose it for its music program. The university, he said, seemed more concerned about giving people a good chance at an education.
“It didn’t matter to me then, but it might now if I decide to go back,” Masterman said.
Mike Gett, 21, of Poland, is a student at Miami University (Oxford), which ranked 60 in 2007 on the U.S. News rankings list. Gett said that when originally deciding what school to attend, Miami’s rank did not play much of a factor.
“I don’t know about rank,” Gett said. “I know Miami was a little better academically than schools like Ohio University or Bowling Green, but the actual rank never came into mind.”
Now that Gett has been at Miami for two years, he said the rank still means very little to him, although he was upset that Ohio State beat out Miami by three places. As far as bragging about the ranking, Gett said he would choose his words carefully if he did decide to do so.
“I don’t think people would think 60 in the nation is that good, so I’d probably just say we were the third-best in Ohio,” Gett said.
Adam Huffman, 20, of Warren, said financial reasons played more of a factor than rank for him when it came to choosing the University of Akron, saying he received a lot more financial aid by picking Akron over Capital, a university in Columbus.
While admitting he would definitely brag if he went to a school ranked in the top 50 by U.S. News, Huffman said he was happy with where he ended up. “I’m proud to say I go to school here at Akron.”
XThe author of this story is a journalism student at the University of Dayton and will brag if his school makes the list ... again.