Rank (as in smelly) rankings

Rank (as in smelly) rankings: On Sunday, I blogged the news that Atlantic Monthly was issuing a college ranking issue filled with stories about how one should ignore such rankings. Today, the NYT joins (reg. required) in the coverage of the reluctant rankings. The focus on articles about why such rankings is ridiculous within the context of a magazine marketing effort supporting the “First Annual” college rankings. It seems an example of what I’ll call the “Geraldine Promotion Strategy.” This is when a magazine rips off another magazine’s proven promotional gimmick while declaring (ala Flip Wilson), “the devil made me do it.”

In fairness to Atlantic Monthly, apart from the disingenuous hype, the package of stories look very intriguing. And online, the magazine’s website has some flashbacks to archival stories on related topics. Especially insightful is this piece from May, 1892, (that’s right, 1892) on “The present requirements for admission to Harvard College.” It’s a long article, but should be required reading for any current high school senior complaining about how difficult the application process is now.

2 thoughts on “Rank (as in smelly) rankings

  1. Those were the days. And many lamented at the time the decline of standards – by then, can you imagine – Harvard also taught vernacular “modern” languages as though they were on a par with Greek and Latin.

    As a volunteer interviewer for my Alma Mater and long-time representative of same at a big, multi-high school college fair, I have been stunned at the number of freshmen (that’s 9th graders for those of you who speak only PCese) who are already scouting out colleges. Many institutions have seen application inflation in the past decade, so that the odds against any one particular applicant being admitted are enormous. Rex, I know your feelings about statistics, and offer this opinion – that the odds are actually probably not as bad because a sizable number of those applications are sent in because “mom and dad made me do it” and not because the students are ultimately qualified to attend those schools. Still, it’s stiff competition. And it should be.

    My fellow TN interviewers and I routinely see about 85 applicants a year; in a good year, as many as 10 might be offered a place or put on wait list, and half of those will accept a place. I’d say more than half get strong or even enthusiastic reviews from their interviews. We don’t see their grades nor SAT/ACT scores nor their teacher recommendations, so we are often puzzled how the admissions folks could pass over someone so obviously qualified.

    On the other hand, there is I think a strong argument that not everyone should go to college, at least, in the liberal arts-degree sense. Like expansion team baseball, the idea that everyone should aspire to a college degree has watered down the franchise. Many of the services we depend on, from mechanic to physical therapist to dental hygienist, are begging for new practitioners. I have to wonder how many people pursuing a BA or BS degree would actually have done better and in the long run been happier with a trade or craft. (Journalism used to be considered so, and I’m not sure it shouldn’t still be thought of that way and not as a profession. Wide learning and curiosity are necessities for journalism, but those may be had outside the classroom.)

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