Some colleges will do anything to improve their national ranking. That can be bad for their students—and for higher education.
Since U.S. News & World Report first published a college ranking in 1983, the rankings industry has become a self-appointed judge, declaring winners and losers among America's colleges and universities. In this revealing account, Colin Diver shows how popular rankings have induced college applicants to focus solely on pedigree and prestige, while tempting educators to sacrifice academic integrity for short-term competitive advantage. By forcing colleges into standardized "best-college" hierarchies, he argues, rankings have threatened the institutional diversity, intellectual rigor, and social mobility that is the genius of American higher education.
As a former university administrator who refused to play the game, Diver leads his readers on an engaging journey through the mysteries of college rankings, admissions, financial aid, spending policies, and academic practices. He explains how most dominant college rankings perpetuate views of higher education as a purely consumer good susceptible to unidimensional measures of brand value and prestige. Many rankings, he asserts, also undermine the moral authority of higher education by encouraging various forms of distorted behavior, misrepresentation, and outright cheating by ranked institutions. The recent Varsity Blues admissions scandal, for example, happened in part because affluent parents wanted to get their children into elite schools by any means necessary.
Explaining what is most useful and important in evaluating colleges, Diver offers both college applicants and educators a guide to pursuing their highest academic goals, freed from the siren song of the "best-college" illusion. Ultimately, he reveals how to break ranks with a rankings industry that misleads its consumers, undermines academic values, and perpetuates social inequality.