These days, people use ranking systems to decide everything. Rankings give people a snapshot of something that they might otherwise have to learn by experiencing first-hand.
However, there is a danger that comes with relying upon rankings. Just look at one of the most important decisions young people make: where to attend college.
U.S. News and World Report publishes a list of colleges each year, rating them on their quality. These colleges are split into “national” and “regional” categories, with “national” colleges being larger schools that offer doctoral programs and “regional” institutions being smaller schools, mostly liberal arts colleges.
This year, Temple was ranked No. 125 in the national category.
Readers who simply rely on this information could come to faulty assumptions about Temple. It’s difficult to attribute a number to the opportunities and experience of college.
Before transferring to Temple, I spent three years at Cedar Crest College, a small, private liberal arts college — ranked No. 16 for the northern region in U.S. News’ regional rankings — with a tuition price tag of more than $31,000 a year.
Required classes were only offered every three years. Incoming freshmen or transfers could not choose their first semester classes. In such a small school it was hard to avoid any lackluster professors. While students were allowed to take courses at other area schools, my attempts to do so resulted in frustration.
In short, my life was hardly as smooth as I would expect for the price tag.
While no school is perfect, Temple offers benefits to its students that cannot be enumerated in an arbitrary rank.
In the Philadelphia area, Temple is one of the most affordable schools. Courses on any topic I could possibly want are available and have a section or two running every semester. I haven’t run into any issues with the classes I need to take with my major, and the number of sections often allows me to register with the most highly-regarded faculty.
Not to mention the fact that many students graduating from higher-ranked, yet more expensive, schools may find themselves struggling for years to pay back student loans.
U.S. News attempts to control this by also publishing a list of “best value” schools.
This ranking is done by considering academic quality and comparing it to the net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of need-based financial aid, according to its website. However, a student with financial aid that pays for 60 percent of a $30,000 tuition bill is still paying $12,000 a year. They could attend a public university like Temple for even less. Which is the better value?
“[Ranking systems are] good for a rough gauge, but they’re not an accurate indication of what anyone is going to experience at a school,” said Nate Leffever, a senior English major.
The people who can best decide how Temple “ranks” are those who are there every day.
“Your relationships determine the outcome,” said Roland Williams, a professor in the English department. “First and foremost, your relationships with teachers, and then the student network. The rankings are inconsequential, though at Temple if you based the rankings on teacher commitment to students, we would fall in the Top 10.”
So what’s in a number? The quality of education a student receives at Temple rivals, if not surpasses, that which a student can receive at some of the much higher-ranked schools. And it costs the student far less to get it. In the end, only a student can decide whether a college is right for him or her. Students will decide based on their educational experience, not on a ranking.
Sarajane Sein can be reached at email@example.com.