EphBlogs favorite Lord Jeff (after Tony Marx), Mondale Hall, points to a statement about college rankings, which has now appeared on the College’s website.

Statement on College Rankings

I, and the other undersigned presidents, agree that prospective students benefit from having as complete information as possible in making their college choices.

Correct! Information and transparency are good things. Previous commentary here.

At the same time, we are concerned about the inevitable biases in any single ranking formula, about the admissions frenzy, and the way in which rankings can contribute to that frenzy and to a false sense that educational success or fit can be ranked in a single numerical list.

OK. No single formula is best. The more (accurate!) information that colleges provide, the better. But complaining about a “frenzy” is mostly stupid. You might as well complain about the sky being blue. Outside of radical changes, there will always be a frenzy.

[For those who really want to decrease the frenzy, the only plausible way is to stretch out the process even further. Imagine that Williams accepted early, early decision applications from high school juniors in June and notified them of the results by August. This would decrease the frenzy since it would stagger the process. These students would be worried about their application (but not really that worried since they can still apply to other schools in the fall) while many/most of their friends were not. More outside-the-box thinking from your friends at EphBlog!]

Since college and ranking agencies should maintain a degree of distance to ensure objectivity, from now on data we make available to college guides will be made public via our Web sites rather than be distributed exclusively to a single entity.

Excellent! This is great news, both objectively and for EphBlog readers. Imagine all the fun that we can have with this data . . . With luck, other colleges will follow suit.

Doing so is true to our educational mission and will allow interested parties to use this information for their own benefit. If, for example, class size is their focus, they will have that information. If it is the graduation rate, that will be easy to find. We welcome suggestions for other information we might also provide publicly.

Kudos to these presidents! This is exactly the right answer to the idiocy of the Lloyd Thackers of the world.

But will they really welcome (and act on?) suggestions? I hope so. For a start, a key issue will be the level of disaggregation in the data. The more detail, the better. For example, we want to know the size of every class that a college offers, not just summary measures like the percent of classes with more than 50 or fewer than 20 students, as US News reports. We want to know the entire (joint) distribution of SAT scores, not just the 25th and 75th percentiles. We want to know how many students come from which high schools.

There are lots of messy details to figure out in how to organize and standardize this data. Let’s start.

We commit not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.

This seems sort of stupid. Why pick on US News? It also seems to hurt Williams much more than other schools, especially when we are competing for students from different (i.e., poor, non-US) backgrounds.

Finally, we encourage all colleges and universities to participate in an effort to determine how information about our schools might be improved. As for rankings, we recognize that no degree of protest may make them soon disappear, and hope, therefore, that further discussion will help shape them in ways that will press us to move in ever more socially and educationally useful directions.

Morton Owen Schapiro

Count me in!


Anthony Marx, Amherst
Elaine Hansen, Bates
Barry Mills, Bowdoin
Nancy Vickers, Bryn Mawr
Robert Oden, Carleton
William D. Adams, Colby
Rebecca Chopp, Colgate
Russell Osgood, Grinnell
Joan Hinde Stewart, Hamilton
Stephen Emerson, Haverford
Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury
David Oxtoby, Pomona
Alfred Bloom, Swarthmore
James Jones, Trinity
Catharine Hill, Vassar
Kenneth Ruscio, Washington and Lee
Kim Bottomly, Wellesley
Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan

Any Ephs in this list besides Cappy Hill ’75? Which colleges are most notable by their absence? Davidson (#9) and Claremont McKenna (#11) seem to be the highest ranked colleges not on this list. Did they decline to sign or were they not even invited. Also, whose idea was a joint letter? Who did the first draft? Details, please.

Hall writes, “I think this effectively ends Lloyd Thacker’s fifteen minutes.” I hope so!

Also, just think of all the fun that we are going to have asking for data that the colleges ought to publish but won’t want to. Morty and his friends want to make graduation rate data available? Great! Tell me graduation rate data by race or family income. Do poor students graduate at the same rate from Amherst as rich students? If not, isn’t Tony Marx failing them? Just asking!

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