Phi Beta Cons

The Ranking Season Starts

Forbes issued its college rankings this week, for the third year. There wasn’t much fanfare, but these rankings really are an interesting experiment.

Developed by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, they are an attempt — yes, just an attempt — to rank schools on the basis of output metrics such as distinguished alumni, salaries upon graduation, and student satisfaction.

So far, the rankings, at least at the top, haven’t been much different from U.S. News’s — although there have been a few deviations; Forbes seemed to slight engineering schools, and it did “discover” some lesser-known schools such as Kentucky’s Centre College. But the list usually ends up looking a lot like U.S. News’s “input-based” rankings (due out in a few days).

The reason is pretty simple: The most important input to “producing” a graduate is the quality of the student. Colleges build and protect their reputations by getting smart kids to apply and then rejecting the majority of them. Once they have a talented and ambitious class, they could sit back and do nothing. Their graduates would still succeed in the game of life, and their successes would redound to their alma maters.

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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