Competing for top 10 status

University of Florida wants to be ranked in the top 10 among public universities, reports the New York Times. So the university president wants to boost tuition to lower the student-faculty ratio, “not coincidentally one of the factors in the much-watched college rankings published annually by U.S. News & World Report.” Florida now ranks 13th. Top-ranked public universities are drawing affluent, high-SAT and out-of-state students, “sometimes using financial aid to lure them,” reports the Times.

In the process, critics say, many are losing force as engines of social mobility, shortchanging low-income and minority students, who are seriously underrepresented on their campuses.

“Public universities were created to make excellence available to all qualified students,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, an advocacy group, “but that commitment appears to have diminished over time, as they choose to use their resources to try to push up their rankings. It’s all about reputation, selectivity and ranking, instead of about the mission of finding and educating future leaders from their state.”

Look at the priorities, writes The Quick and the Ed.

What you won’t find in this article, and this is very typical, is anyone saying something along the lines of, “We’re doing this because it will result in a higher quality education for our students.” It’s always, “the state will benefit from the research” or “we’ll get ‘better’ students to enroll” or “the alumni will donate more.”

The unquestioned assumption is that if faculty with great research reputations work there, and students with high SAT scores enroll there, it’s a good school. The problem is that this assumption is plainly illogical — faculty often build up their scholarly credentials at the expense of teaching, and colleges should be judged based on how much their student learn while they attend college, not how much the learned before they got there.

Top-scoring students seek the most selective colleges and universities. Getting in establishes their status.

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  1. In my experience, brighter students produce better classroom discussion and better effort from teachers. I agree that colleges might more usefully compete in “value added”, but few seem willing to do so.