On Tuesday, the U.S. News and World Report released their updated college rankings for public colleges. Much to the satisfaction of the administration, USF was ranked No. 44 among public universities, placing it among the top 50 in the United States.
While this development might seem like a cause for celebration, students should remember the facts about these lists. Far from an objective measure of educational quality, college rankings are really a signifier of unearned privilege.
Researchers and commentators have written volumes on why college rankings are unhelpful, if not damaging to schools and students. Lists like those by U.S. News & World Report make no attempt to measure the quality of teaching or the success of students after college.
Instead, they rely on statistical “proxies” like opinion surveys, high-school SAT scores and graduation rates. Each of these stats can be manipulated, and colleges often punish low-income students and students of color in the process.
More broadly, there’s a serious moral problem at the core of college rankings that goes unquestioned: the notion that elite status is a reasonable goal worth pursuing to begin with. Ideally, all students should have access to quality higher education, regardless of the school they attend. Seen in this light, a number-ranking of the “best” colleges makes little sense.
What, then, is the real reason we give such weight and credence to these lists? One clue lies in who gets admitted to highly-ranked colleges: overwhelmingly, these schools serve the children of the wealthy, then fast-track them into high-status jobs through elite alumni networks.
Far from promoting social mobility, elite schools hoard ruling-class power and launder it from one generation to the next. College rankings are just a highly-visible outgrowth of this trend, pushing public universities to emulate the worst tendencies of these colleges in hopes that they’ll join the club.
USF might be climbing the list, but we should fear for who they’ll leave behind to get there.
Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.