HBCU, College Ranking and Exclusion


Over the past few weeks, I’ve published two guest posts on college rankings – one titled “Harvard is failing this college ranking system” and the second titled “Why US News might have to rethink the way it creates college rankings. Here is a news that widens the debate.

The first concerns what many consider to be a flawed methodology used in the creation of the famous annual US News & World Report college rankings (the latest version was published this month), which rewards the significant endowments and resources that the most schools don’t. The second article explains how one of the tools used by US News – something called the Carnegie Classifications, a framework for classifying institutions of higher learning – is being modified to include the impact of institutions on opportunities. social and economic students.

The commentary below takes a deeper look at the origins of college rankings and how black colleges and universities have fared historically. It was written by Ethan Ris, assistant professor of higher education administration at the University of Nevada in Reno and former fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Academy of Education. He is the author of the new book “Other People’s Colleges: The Origins of American Higher Education Reform.

Harvard misses this university ranking

Why US News may have to rethink the way it creates college rankings

The US News “Best Colleges” Ranking filed this month to great attention. Even those of us who find the whole show disgusting can’t help but take a look at who made No. 1 this year — and of course where our alma maters ended up. But here’s the thing about rankings: even though their quantitative data gives them the veneer of objectivity, they’re extraordinarily subjective. Before running the numbers, graders need to decide which metrics mean “quality.” These decisions affect which horse race tops the list, but they also determine who makes the list.

For that reason, I’m far less interested in whether Princeton University got the top spot again this year (it did) than I am in where black colleges and universities have historically ended up. . I want to see where land-grant institutions, religious colleges, and universities that focus on preparing future teachers rank. I’ll give you a hint: far from the top.

US News college ranking draws new complaints and competitors

The purpose of rankings like this is to codify what counts as quality in American higher education. US News certainly did not invent this game. As I describe in my new book, it dates to 1906. That year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education, an agency devoted to higher education reform, released its annual “Accepted List” of high-quality colleges and universities. eligible for its grants. In doing so, the foundation established glaring patterns of exclusion that are still present in modern rankings.

There were no public institutions among the 52 on the first list accepted by Carnegie. On the new US News list, you have to scroll to number 20 to find the top public university — in a country where 73% of students attend a public institution. In fact, there are only 12 public universities in the top 40, and half of them are University of California singular system campuses.

Since there were no public universities on the 1906 list, there were also no real land-grant institutions. In the new US News rankings, no autonomous land-grant schools (meaning a school that is not also a state flagship university) appear until Purdue at No. 51. There were no religious colleges on Carnegie’s accepted list, because the foundation barred them from inclusion. This policy led to dozens of people abandoning their religious affiliations over the next decade, which partly explains why so few elite schools today are religious (a handful of Catholic institutions are the notable exceptions). ).

Things get worse with institutions serving minorities. There was no school that had a significant number of black students on the 1906 list, a trend that continued until Fisk University entered the rankings in 1921. Not surprisingly, no institution historically black does not appear on the US News list until Howard University, at No. 89.

For other HBCUs, you should check out the alternate list of “liberal arts colleges,” where they rank alongside schools whose national significance they greatly eclipse. Spelman appears at No. 51 (tied with Principia College of 322 students), Morehouse at No. 124 (tied with Randolph College of 482 students), and Fisk and Tougaloo at No. 151, where they closely follow the Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga. Of the 487 institutions serving Hispanics across the United States, only one non-UC school (Rutgers) appears on the list of the top 100 universities.

It is far too easy to look at this historical continuity and attribute it to a persistent lack of quality in certain types of colleges and universities. But the opposite is true: historical exclusion, based on overt bias and elitism, is directly linked to the low status of large swaths of American higher education today.

Amid nationwide enrollment declines, some HBCUs are growing. Threats too.

We decided long ago what counted as quality – richness and whiteness, above all – so we shouldn’t be surprised that so little has changed. And the Carnegie Annual Lists weren’t the only ones to perpetuate the pattern of exclusion. They were encouraged by an elitist 1911 ranking of institutions by the Federal Bureau of Education; the decades-long refusal of regional accreditation agencies to accredit institutions serving minorities; the inability of lower-status institutions to access the massive federal grants that followed World War II; and the revamped Carnegie Ratings that emerged in the early 1970s and still help guide American news ratings today.

Now, leaders from the Carnegie Foundation and the American Council on Education say they are collaborating to revamp the classifications. Their new system will rate colleges and universities on metrics well beyond research and higher education, which currently drive much of the sorting. They intend to reward schools for their virtuous work, including “improving college access, student retention and graduation, and supporting employment and debt management”.

It’s refreshing to see the foundation that kick-started our national college ranking obsession promising to lead in a new direction. But I don’t think genie can be rebottled. As a centerpiece of his reforms, Carnegie will soon publish a new “Classification of Social and Economic Mobility.” Will this objective – which will surely only augment traditional measures, not replace them – change anything about the hierarchy of statuses that has captivated us for more than a century?

Additionally, other groups have already tried to promote alternative ranking systems. Most measure things like “economic mobility,” which reduces college goals to an increased annual salary. They also deliberately skewed their data to demote elite schools, making it seem like low-income students would be much better off attending California State University at Dominguez Hills (#2 in Third Way’s Economic mobility index) than Princeton (#426).

It’s impossible to imagine US News using these new executives to significantly shake up its Top 100 list. And let’s be honest: Even on the measures that Carnegie will now begin to recognize — retaining students, graduating them debt-free, and preparing them for good jobs — Princeton is still going to win.

Florida A&M students sue state for funding, allege HBCU discrimination

Rankings are rooted in exclusion. For every winner, there are dozens of losers. Whether we decide to penalize colleges and universities for serving students of color, for not providing scholarships, or for preparing students for important but low-paying jobs like teaching, we pass judgment on schools that deserve to prosper and those who deserve to wither. This was the whole idea in 1906, openly stated by reformers who wanted excluded colleges to suffer “death by starvation.”

We are less direct today, but when we create ranking lists and focus on them, we ensure that American higher education will continue to be a zero-sum game.


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