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Rankings: So What’s the Big Deal?

With the recent news that Cornell is now ranked 12th among national universities by the ever-fickle U.S. News and World Report, a lot of people are probably asking what the deal is all about. Sure, they will say, it’s nice to see an increase in the University’s ranking, but, as we all know, it will certainly not change the (very high) quality of undergraduate education and research that goes on in Ithaca.

Nor do the rankings measure intangibles, such as the quality of student life in beautiful Upstate New York and the opportunity to live in a crime free environment. And any petty ranking certainly will not change any alum’s sense of self-worth about their Cornell degree—we all sleep soundly knowing that we earned the best education money could afford.

But a 1999 study by a Cornell University economist shows that the U.S. News Rankings may actually matter more than any level-headed Cornell alum might care to admit. In fact, all other things equal, a one place rise in the rankings results in a lower admit rate, a higher yield rate, and higher SAT scores for the entering class due to heightened positive perception about the school. So it would not be unreasonable to expect Cornell to admit an even more impressive entering class next year.

Of course, the opposite holds true for when a university drops in the rankings. And all of this all has a snowball affect; a drop in the rankings today means lower yield rates and higher admit rates tomorrow, which can ultimately feed back into an even lower U.S. News Ranking, ad infinum.

All of this doesn’t necessarily bode well for the University of Pennsylvania… which slipped from 4th to 7th this year. So hopefully in another couple of years UPenn will be able to find itself in what should be its proper ranking: below Brown. Hell, they don't even know how to play hockey down there in West Philadelphia.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on August 21, 2006 (#)

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