Imperfect as the information in them might be, rankings of universities and colleges matter. The challenge, says Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec, is for the public to understand rankings’ limitations and for universities to be accurately represented.
Forbes, Money and US News and World Reports rankings focus on various aspects of schools, so what’s conveyed by the ranking is dependent on what the entity is looking at. Schovanec says Forbes and Money focus on return on investment by looking at earning potential of students. That’s assessed against the cost of getting an education.
Out of nine major rankings this year, Texas Tech improved in five and remained steady in one. Schovanec values the good that can come from rankings.
“The good things in these rankings is that they cause you to review what you’re doing and look at how you might do things that are better for the students and better for the faculty to enhance our reputation,” Schovanec says.
US News & World Report ranked Texas Tech 176th in national universities and 95th in top public schools. Schovanec says explains:
U.S. News and World Report, whether they say it or not, are more elitist in their rankings. Look at who occupies the top positions. Those are schools that have great resources that are more selective in their admissions policies and typically more expensive. They charge greater tuition. They have more resources to spend per student. They’re older established universities that benefit from certain reputational measures. They report certain characteristics that reflect some activity that went to admitting those things. So it’s very different information than something like Forbes or Money. And then you also have global rankings. Increasingly of importance to university rankings, giving also how international student populations are. They look at more research oriented data.
In the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education U.S. College Rankings, Texas Tech earned a first-time ranking of No. 495. Schovanec says this position is very inconsistent with other rankings.
A story in Politico around the time US News and World Report rankings came out highlights a notion that the more money a school spends, the higher its rankings will be. Schovanec pointed to a Big 12 school that has risen sharply in rankings in recent years. According to Schovanec:
In fact, as an example of a school that had moved up dramatically in US News and World report, was Baylor, that they mentioned in this article. They pointed out that Baylor’s tuition over some period of years had gone from around the 20s to the 40s. And they correlated that to their rise in US News and World Report rankings and that’s what you see among the privates there. The more expensive schools fair very well because of the resources they cite as being invested in students. When you only have ten to fifteen thousand full-time student equivalents and we have 30, and you just take how much you spend and divide by the number of students, we don’t fair so well. I don’t want this to sound like an excuse, we are looking at ways to make sure that we are adequately representing the data that would help us.
Schovanec says he’d like ranking outlets to survey schools’ graduates to get their opinions. Niche and College Factual do that. He hopes students synthesize various rankings results.
“A student needs to ask what is it that I want from an institution and different rankings give different information,” he says.