Forbes: College Ranking FAIL

It seems everyone wants to get a piece of the college ranking game, and Forbes is latest contender.

Let's look at how the Ivy League - the group of schools America loves to hate - fared in the newest contest:

US News
Princeton #1 #1
Harvard #2 #3
Yale #3 #9
Columbia #9 #10
Brown #14 #27
Penn #5 #61
Cornell #12 #121
Dartmouth #11 #127

Yes, that's right - Wabash College (#12) and Centre College (#13) are all better than half of the Ivy League.

While I firmly believe that one can get a great education anywhere, something is just not right about these rankings.

It becomes quite apparent when you look at Forbes' methodology:

(1) Listing of Alumni in the 2008 Who's Who in America (25%)

Ironically, Forbes' itself wrote an article ("The Hall of Lame") criticizing that it "appears to contain a lot of relatively unaccomplished people who simply nominated themselves..." Apparently, the majority of those who apply are selected. Anyone want to be in Who's Who? Think of how you'll help your college!

(2) Student Evaluations of Professors from (25%)

Students' input about professors to RateMyProfessors is limited to four criteria: Clarity, Easiness, Helpfulness and Hotness. Nowhere in there do the students provide information about how much they learned. And this accounts for a whopping 25% of Forbes' rankings? At least Forbes decided not to include "hotness" as a criteria.

(3) Four- Year Graduation Rates (16 2/3%)

This criteria appears a tad more fair. But still, what about a school which has a large number of students pursuing double majors, simultaneous masters degrees, etc? Some school encourage these sorts of academic challenges which would drop their four year graduation rate, while other schools effectively prohibit it.

(4) Enrollment-adjusted numbers of students and faculty receiving nationally competitive awards (16 2/3%)

For once, I have no complaint about this criteria. Ok, ok, maybe just one: is the sample statistically size fair?

(5) Average four year accumulated student debt of those borrowing money (16 2/3%)

For the 64% of students who do borrow money for school, leave it to them to decide if going into debt is worth it.

This is like ranking cars based on the average debt of its owners.

Forbes should be embarrassed by their list. 50% of the rankings are derived from extremely unreliable sources, and another 16.6% is a financial consideration that is best left up to each individual student. If you took their list seriously, you would be led to believe that a small, liberal college is the only place to get a solid education in this country.

What's really shocking about this list is that no one at Forbes took a glance at this list and said, "Hey, guys, did we really mean to put Hampden-Sydney College over 250 spots above NYU?"

Shame on Forbes. I'd expect better statistics from such a source.