In case you missed it, Newsweek and The Daily Beast have unleashed their college rankings upon our status-obsessed nation. For these inspired offerings, we should all say, “Thank you!”
I, for one, don’t know how to express my gratitude for the list of “25 Most Beautiful Colleges,” drawn from “metrics on the campus aesthetics and the weather,” as well as from ratings on the attractiveness of students. If you don’t know what the “comfort index” is, I can tell you that it has something to do with humidity, which, apparently, diminishes the desirability of a campus (perspiration, it seems, isn’t pretty).
And wouldn’t you just know that scenic Stanford University would top the list of “Happiest Colleges”? Selectivity, sunshine, and satisfied customers? Some colleges have all the luck.
While you’re pondering the lists, be sure to read this excellent blog post by Dan Bauer, managing editor of the student newspaper at Allegheny College, which made the “Most Rigorous Colleges” list. Although the honor prompted the Pennsylvania college to crank out a news release last week, Mr. Bauer questioned the methodology used to compile the list.
In his post, titled “Newsweek Thinks You’re Stupid,” Mr. Bauer noted that the ranking of rigor isn’t based on an objective measure of how much work various colleges assign their students, or of how difficult those assignments are (science has its limits, you see). Instead, the list was created by taking the most-selective colleges (as measured by their admission rates) and looking at their median ACT/SAT scores.
Those colleges were then ranked based on data from College Prowler, which asks students to rate, on a 1-to-10 scale, their college’s “workload manageability.” Data on each college’s student-to-faculty ratio were also factored in (“smaller class size and greater professor oversight are proxies for tougher classes,” Newsweek/Daily Beast tells us).
Those three metrics—selectivity, workload scores, and student-to-faculty ratios—were weighted equally in determining the final list of colleges where students “find the workload most difficult when normalized by the aptitude of the student body.”
So, uh, what does this list really tell you? And what does “normalized” mean? Mr. Bauer offered an explanation. “The ranking isn’t saying that Allegheny is rigorous because it’s difficult; it’s rigorous because The Daily Beast thinks it’s too much for your low test scores to handle,” he wrote. “In short, according to Newsweek, we’re nothing but whiners of average intelligence.”
Well played, Mr. Bauer. Your post should be required reading for rank-o-philes everywhere.
And I humbly suggest that “Whiners of Average Intelligence” would make an awesome T-shirt slogan. It’s the kind of thing that just might help an institution scale future rankings of the “Most Ironic Colleges.” Hey, you never know.