SDSU moves up in imperfect ranking system

by Madison Hopkins

Last week, U.S. News and World Report released its annual Best College list. San Diego State received particular attention as it made the largest increase in ranking among all other ranked national universities during the past three years. In the national university category, SDSU earned the No. 152 ranking and the No. 81 spot out of the top 100 public universities.

As an Aztec, this is a time to feel proud of our school’s accomplishments. It’s obviously nice for the outside world to finally recognize our school as the fine institution we already knew it was. However, it’s always important to consider the source.

The annual U.S. News & World Report on college rankings is generally thought of as the foremost source on collegiate quality. And while the prestige of such an accomplishment does warrant one big pat on the back for the Aztec community, we still need to question the criteria of such rankings and the substantial scope of its influence.

This year, the U.S. News & World Report changed its algorithm and criteria for the rankings. These changes included increasing the importance of graduation and retention rates, while decreasing the weight carried by high school class rankings of incoming freshmen and student selectivity. This is nothing new and the organization readily admits the significant effects changes have had on the rankings. However, that apparently doesn’t stop anyone from obsessing about the slightest fluctuations of the standings.

For some prospective college students, these rankings are the roadmap to the future. The opinions of their parents, guidance counselors, future employers and others could all reside on the quality of the schools they end up at. The incredible exclusiveness of college admissions has equated a letter of admissions with intellectual status. Because of this, the public sees such rankings as the ultimate guide to judging people’s potential off of their alma maters, regardless of criteria inconsistencies.

And irregularity isn’t the only downfall of the ranking process. The allure of high rankings and respect drives several universities to do all they can to get around the system.

According to CBS News, one of the aspects considered in the rankings is the amount of money each university spends. But, there is no stipulation that tuition should remain low, leaving students vulnerable to covering the cost of some universities’ high-ranking ambitions.

Another significant factor in the ranking algorithm is the campus reputation. But, as past rankings from the very same organization are essentially the deciding factor in public opinion, views are often recycled year after year without any legitimate basis.

And when all else fails, some notable universities have even taken to cheating. Emory University, Claremont McKenna College and the U.S. Naval Academy have all been caught reporting inaccurate numbers to U.S. News in fruitless attempts to climb up the ladder.

With all that being said, the list is not to blame. The only reason this ranking is a big enough deal to cause such issues is because we made it one. This endless fixation on a concrete hierarchy that can supposedly predict where every single person will get the best education is an illusion. The list definitely has several valid aspects and is useful in deciphering general qualities of universities, but it is not the supreme educational law of the land we make it out to be.

Let’s take a look at local institutions. Out of the three major universities in San Diego, SDSU ranks last. The University of San Diego holds the No. 91 spot in the nation and the University of California, San Diego comes in at No. 39—and a notable No. 8 on the public university scale.

Ranking followers look at this and see SDSU as subpar, and unfortunately may never know what they are missing with such a one-sided outlook. This is because what the rankings ignore may be the make-or-break factor in countless students’ college experiences.

For example, even though UCSD and SDSU have comparable undergraduate enrollment, we have more than 50 more student organizations. Although USD obviously has the advantage of small student populations and class sizes, SDSU offers significantly more majors to choose from.

Relying on a universal standard to judge a college’s worth is unfair both the university and the potential student. Although SDSU may not be ranked as high as its neighborhood competitors, it’s still deserves notable recognition in other areas. Different priorities shape different rankings and there are no perfect college rankings. There is no one set of criteria, so there is no reason to be one prevailing ranking.