Rankings and Choices
I am no fan of the rankings, they can lead to wrong college choices. However, with the new U.S. News College Rankings out last week, South Floridians have a lot to celebrate. Once more, the University of Miami located in Coral Gables, climbed in the rankings. This time, the climb was three spots, which placed UM for the very first time as the most prestigious university in the state of Florida. This is great news for the many south Florida families that want to support their children to receive a great education, while staying close to home. What was now a highly known school for partying and football is quickly gaining recognition as a top research institution where rigor is demanded from students, and talent is developed.
Becoming #1 of the state means that for the first time UM surpassed the renowned University of Florida in the rankings. UF, on the other hand, went down in the rankings to take position 53 and loose its place in the top 50. We have to take this news with a grain of salt, though. The real relevance is to be found on the fact that UM has escalated 20 spots in the last 9 years, which means that the institution has undergone a complete change of paradigm, devoting its attention to academia as the top priority of its President, Donna Shalala. The former Secretary of Health for President Clinton, Ms. Shalala earned higher education success experience while working with the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and also with Hunter College. As explained by The Miami Herald, through Shalala, UM has earned over $1,000 million in a single fundraising campaign, which is unprecedented in Florida. These new funds are being devoted to academia, which directly explains the newly gained recognition as a top research institution in the U.S.
There are several factors that directly affect the rankings, among them the alumni financial contribution to their alma mater. However, it is highly questionable that this piece of information, as many others measured for the U.S. News rankings, are valid when assessing an institution’s academic excellence. This is why many of us in the education industry question the rankings’ validity when assessing a school’s potential to support students into achieving a top education. Another interesting statistic that was used to support UM’s position hike is the percentage of students graduating from the university in six years, which rose from 70 to 80% a few years back. If we were to assess a top Venezuelan institution, such as Universidad Metropolitana de Caracas – UNIMET, by this statistic, would they be in trouble… With “filter” courses such as Calculus I and II, as reported by students, many students end up changing majors and even dropping out of the school. For some of their majors, the graduation rate does not go above 10%. Does this mean that the university is not competent as an institution of higher learning? This can be questioned, as the students who complete these rigorous courses have undergone a great stress test while showing strong academic proficiency, which has prepared them to conquer tough challenges and be more prepared to excel in the future. Nonetheless, this statistic is one taken under consideration when computing rankings.
The additional fundraising measured by the rankings does however benefit students and the school, as a larger endowment usually goes hand in hand with scholarship opportunities. Even international students demonstrating academic proficiency can become eligible for scholarships, which makes UM even more attractive for some top performing students who seek to be recognized and supported for their academic prowess. For many of us, this is still one of the most important aspects when choosing a college to attend, and a topic to discuss when comparing UM and UF, as the first demands about $37,000 in annual tuition, while the second’s costs can be around $5,000 per year for in-state students. We can pay a big ticket price or a small ticket price and still earn a top education. The fact that UM now has a larger endowment directly relates to attracting outstanding students that in the past would not have considered UM due to the lack of financial support.
So the question remains, how do we consider the rankings to make the best college admissions decision? Follow trends to understand if institutions are presenting strong growth and other signs of significant and positive (or negative) change. However, when looking at schools, seek detailed information and the opportunity to find the strengths and weaknesses, away from the numbers, the “look and feel”. These pieces of information will help you learn the most important thing to help your family make the right college decision, and that is your personal fit with the college. If when researching an institution you correlate the information with what your interests, passions, values and academic style is, your chances of success in that school are just a step away.