To the Editor:
U.S. News & World Report has become so successful, because families want the information the Report is selling, including the rankings and the underlying variables. As Brian Rosenberg mentions, the rankings primarily measure wealth and prestige (“Higher Ed’s Prestige Paralysis,” The Chronicle Review, November 22), but students and their families are not irrational in wanting information about both. That in no way, however, suggests that the rankings are measuring the quality of the education offered or all the attributes of that education that a student might care about.
While the rankings are not the cause of wealth and prestige mattering in higher education as Rosenberg mentions, their continued influence is the result of the rising income inequality in the economy and across higher education institutions over the last 40 years. The rankings are not an independent cause of the challenges facing higher education, but instead a symptom. Would the rankings matter as much if the wealth and resources available at different colleges and universities were more equal and family incomes were as well? The effects on the behavior of both students and institutions would be significantly less.
The problems facing higher education are not the rankings, but the rising inequality in resources available to different institutions of higher education and the rising income inequality of American families, which is putting higher education and its benefits out of reach of many of them. Eliminating the rankings will not address these more fundamental challenges facing the economy and higher education.
Managing Director of Ithaka S + R
President Emerita, Vassar College