NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 2, 2008

The obsession of many high school students and their parents about getting into a prestige college or university is part of the social scene of our time, says economist Thomas Sowell.  Media hype adds to the pressure to go where the prestige is.  A key role is often played by the various annual rankings of colleges and universities, especially the rankings by U.S. News & World Report.   These rankings typically measure all sorts of inputs -- but not outputs.

A new think tank in Washington, however, is trying to shift the emphasis from inputs to outputs.  The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), headed by Professor Richard Vedder, has released a new study that graded universities by using several measures of educational output, as well as the ratings that students give their professors.

The CCAP study found:

  • The top three colleges are the same, but in different order, whether ranked by U.S. News or by CCAP; they are Harvard, Yale and Princeton according to CCAP, and Princeton, Harvard and Yale according to U.S. News.
  • There were big changes among liberal arts colleges; although Williams College and Amherst College were the top two in both rankings, Washington & Lee University moved up from 15th to 6th in the CCAP study, and Barnard climbed from 30th to 8th.
  • Whitman College was ranked 37th by U.S. News, but CCAP ranked it 9th.
  • Wabash College also moved up from 52nd in U.S. News to 10th in the CCAP study.

Professor Vedder's study does is provide yet another reason for parents and students not to obsess over big-name schools or their rankings -- or to go deep into hock over them, says Sowell.

Source: Thomas Sowell, "Is Prestige Really Worth It?", June 17, 2008.


Browse more articles on Education Issues