Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When Do I Like Rankings?

When my school comes out ahead, of course!  Jeez, you guys should know me by now.

The Washington Monthly ranks universities in the US according to: their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).  Quite distinct that the focus is on the public good or, as some folks would put it, the greater good.

So, these priorities, rather than just citations, or entering test scores or ultimate team performance,  make a lot of sense if you want to argue about, say, public funding of higher education.  So, it is probably a good thing that the evidence suggests that the system most in crisis--the University of California system--is well-represented at the top (five of the top ten)--justifying perhaps efforts to save the system.  And at the tippy top: UC San Diego, my graduate alma mater.  I have always been proud of UCSD.  I bought low-ish, as it was an up-and-coming department in an up-and-coming school, and sold high as it now has a much better reputation.  I am not sure I could get into that program now.

Anyhow, what I like about this set of rankings, besides it boosting my old grad school, is that it directly addresses the questions of legislators and not of parents. We have enough of the latter, but not too much of the former that are any good.  Given that state funding has been dropping for some time--even before the current crisis, it is nice to have a reminder what universities do, especially public ones.  They provide key public goods--such as allowing people to move beyond their origins via education, serving their communities, and providing some knowledge that improves our world.

 I am sure it would be hard to measure, but I would be curious about the economic impact of universities.  UCSD was surrounded by bio tech, computer tech and other advanced knowledge-based industries--and it was not an accident. Those businesses grew up around UCSD, not the other way around, although they do feed off of each other.

So, I like rankings that illustrate what universities can do, not just in terms of paying profs more or keeping young adults off the streets.

No comments: