Middlebury: Rank 5 or 20?

In a move that would make my Asian parent happy, Middlebury College has moved up to number five on U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges 2007 in the Liberal Arts School ranking. That follows a move to number eight last year up from 11 the year before. This, of course, will mean many more applications and more rejections from Middlebury College this next academic year. But it is worth investigating what a raise in rank really means.

It’s not worth lying, Middlebury cares about its rank. It recently adjusted the way its student-teacher ratio was calculated in order to bring the number down from 11 to 1, when I applied to somewhere near 10 or 9 to 1, now. The school’s official stance was that all the other liberal arts schools calculate student-teacher ratio the same way. If everyone else is jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, do you jump off too? “Faculty resources” (a combination of measures including student-teacher ratio) counts for 20 percent of the U.S. News and Ranking score, granted the actual ratio accounts for only 1 percent of the total ranking score. Most important, accounting for 25 percent of the score, is actually “peer assessment” which “gives greatest weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school’s undergraduate academic excellence.” So, I suppose I can say Midd had a good year in the eyes of provosts, presidents, and deans of admissions. Then again, on 2,371 of over 4,000 of them bothered to respond at all to a survey determining the score.

With the release of ranking came a whole host of annual articles denouncing the ranking system and uber-competition to get into college. I like the idea of getting rid of rankings altogether but then again I can deal with alternative rankings like those put out my the Washington Monthly [thank, Ben Casnocha] which, of course, drops Middlebury to number 20.

My issue is that posts like this end up perpetuating the use and reliance on rankings. Should we all just stop giving any mention to U.S. News or any other ranking site, for that matter?