How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do about It
Some colleges will do anything to improve their national ranking. That can be bad for their students—and for higher education.
Since U.S. News & World Report first published a college ranking in 1983, the rankings industry has become a self-appointed judge, declaring winners and losers among America's colleges and universities. In this revealing account, Colin Diver shows how popular rankings have induced college applicants to focus solely on pedigree and prestige, while tempting educators to sacrifice academic integrity for short-term competitive advantage. By forcing colleges into standardized "best-college" hierarchies, he argues, rankings have threatened the institutional diversity, intellectual rigor, and social mobility that is the genius of American higher education.
As a former university administrator who refused to play the game, Diver leads his readers on an engaging journey through the mysteries of college rankings, admissions, financial aid, spending policies, and academic practices. He explains how most dominant college rankings perpetuate views of higher education as a purely consumer good susceptible to unidimensional measures of brand value and prestige. Many rankings, he asserts, also undermine the moral authority of higher education by encouraging various forms of distorted behavior, misrepresentation, and outright cheating by ranked institutions. The recent Varsity Blues admissions scandal, for example, happened in part because affluent parents wanted to get their children into elite schools by any means necessary.
Explaining what is most useful and important in evaluating colleges, Diver offers both college applicants and educators a guide to pursuing their highest academic goals, freed from the siren song of the "best-college" illusion. Ultimately, he reveals how to break ranks with a rankings industry that misleads its consumers, undermines academic values, and perpetuates social inequality.
About the Author
Colin Diver was formerly the president of Reed College, a trustee of Amherst College, and the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he is currently the Charles A. Heimbold Jr. Professor of Law and Economics Emeritus.
"A truly elegant exploration of just how important the ranking industry has become to American higher education. Breaking Ranks works in large part because of the skill and experience of the author, who knows firsthand how dangerous the rankings can be and how little campus leaders can do to change them. Diver starts with what everyone knows and worries about, revealing a host of insider secrets."
"Taking a critical view of the growing influence of rankings in higher education, Colin Diver draws on a wealth of personal experience and academic research to provide rich insight into the history and consequences of these numbers. Breaking Ranks shows an insider's mastery of the intricacies of rankings and clearly communicates these complexities so that everyone can understand the uses and dangers of these metrics."
"Colin Diver makes a compelling argument for comparing colleges by how well they prepare their graduates to live fulfilling lives, not by their success in the tooth-and-claw admissions game. Breaking Ranks merits a place on the bookshelf of anyone who cares about the future of higher education."
"Colin Diver does more than simply argue against the utility of college rankings—though he does that with great effectiveness and a good deal of wit. He situates rankings within our larger culture and explores how they both shape and reflect the prestige-driven nature of American higher education. This is a splendid book."
"The college ranking system has a near stranglehold on American higher education. Its effects are largely pernicious. Colin Diver dissects the questionable assumptions and distorting effects of this 'rankocracy' with devastating force. His meticulously researched and lucid book is essential reading for college educators and applicants alike."
"Lifelong educator Colin Diver offers both a searing portrait of the pernicious ways rankings have transformed our colleges and universities and an illuminating meditation on what higher education ought to mean. Students, parents, faculty, administrators, and policy makers all have a great deal to learn from this important book."
Other Titles in EDUCATION / Higher
Other Titles in Higher & further education, tertiary education