Noor in a Nutshell: College rankings promote inequality

Noor Naji, Opinion Editor

The U.S. News and World Report is a familiar name to students as their rankings of universities allows students to compare and contrast a school’s academic quality. However, these rankings reinforce economic disparities across campuses in the U.S.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation reported that 72 percent of students in the most competitive schools were from the top 25 percent of income earners, whereas only 3 percent were from the bottom 25 percent. Higher education has become for the elite and the U.S. News rankings perpetuate  this trend.

Among the factors for a high U.S. rankings are high standardized test scores, low acceptance rates, and high financial and faculty resources, all of which favor wealthier students. And since, according to Politico, universities “have built them into strategic plans,” they create a type  of incentive for universities to accept more economically advantaged students.

For example, SAT and ACT scores correlate strongly with economic class, according to College Board. One of the most obvious explanations is that less advantaged students have less access to tutoring centers to prepare for the tests. Instead of looking at GPA, which is a better indicator of academic achievement, U.S. News chooses to focus on scores, which say more about the student’s affluence.

Financial and faculty resources make up about 10 percent and 20 percent of the rankings respectively.  According to U.S. News, this is reviewed as “generous per-student spending indicates that a college can offer a wide variety of programs and services.”

However, as University of California, Berkeley chancellor Carol Christ suggests, if a university wants to boost its spending per student, they would accept more affluent students, as they require less financial aid, allowing the school to use the extra money on hiring more faculty to keep classes small, yet another quality U.S. News rewards.

Furthermore, the rankings also harm universities who are willing to take an extra step to help less wealthy students. For example, Georgia State plummeted 30 spots in rankings after it reduced emphasis on standardized tests, increased its economic diversity, accepted more students on Pell grants, and increased its graduation rate. On the other hand, Southern Methodist University jumped up six spots in the rankings by accepting students with higher SAT scores, fundraising and, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, accepting fewer low income students.

The rankings not only harm universities who take initiatives that should be taken across the country, but also reinforce inequality in something that used to be an equalizer for those who wanted to climb up the ladder and fulfill “the American dream”: education.