Editorial: Rankings fail to incorporate college experience

North Wind Staff

Two weeks ago, NMU was ranked 76th among Midwest regional universities by U.S. News. The ranking wasn’t exceptionally high or notable and was within close range of rankings that NMU has received in the past.

Comic Credit: Dorsey Sprouls
Comic Credit: Dorsey Sprouls

Similar to the rating system of U.S. News and other organizations is the federal financial aid rating system proposed by President Obama in late August which would essentially tie federal student aid to the value of individual colleges based on key comparisons like those used by U.S. News.

However, those who create these rankings — which look at affordability, graduation rates and student retention among many other things — tend to overlook factors that define the institutions they are attempting to subjectively rate.

For example, financial resources have an enormous effect on whether universities can provide essential resources to faculty and students. Without federal and state appropriations, many universities would need to raise tuition to maintain the necessary functions of a four-year college.

Universities that cannot compete with the performance and enrollment rates of institutions such as the University of Michigan, Michigan State University or other nationally-recognized universities are at an inherent disadvantage. With more revenue and more prestige, these larger schools easily outrank smaller universities, which can’t keep up in performance-based rankings in what CBS News calls a “collegiate beauty pageant.”

Additionally, one of NMU’s most notable traits as a public regional university is its status as a ‘right-to-try’ school, giving students who didn’t perform well in high school an opportunity to attend college, while it was also in the bottom third of tuition rates for Michigan universities during the 2012-13 school year.

The presence of affordability and opportunity, while sparingly covered by the methodology used in the U.S. News ratings, is what made NMU a good choice for the more than 8,000 undergraduate students currently enrolled.

The rating systems of Obama’s proposed financial aid legislation and of the annual U.S. News rankings also overlook the ultimate success of university students in their chosen career path.

There is also no objective way to measure the enthusiasm of faculty or how students feel after meeting with a professor and discussing something they are passionate about.

Everyone at NMU has their own reason for being here. Some attend for the convenience or value, while others for the obvious natural beauty of Marquette or the availability of scholarships and athletic opportunities.

It’s hard to make any important decision based on methodology or statistics. This is especially true for choosing a college.

A decision that will shape the careers, lives and minds of students shouldn’t be made based on numbers alone.