It’s a matter of what educational model you value more-and here, once again, U.S. News makes its position clear. It gives twice as much weight to selectivity as efficacy. It favors the Yale model over the Penn State model, which means that the Yales of the world will always succeed at the U. S. News rankings because the U.S. News system is designed to reward Yale-ness. By contrast, to the extent that Penn State succeeds at doing a better job of being Penn State- of attracting a diverse group of students and educating them capably-it will only do worse. Rankings are not benign. They enshrine very particular ideologies, and, at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de-facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of these factors. And why? Because a group of magazine analysts in Washington, D.C., decided twenty years ago to value selectivity over efficacy, to use proxies that scarcely relate to what they’re meant to be proxies for, and to pretend that they can compare a large, diverse, low-cost land-grant university in rural Pennsylvania with a small, expensive, private Jewish university on two campuses in Manhattan.
From The Order of Things by Malcom Gladwell in this week’s issue of The New Yorker.