University ranked poorly among colleges in Forbes

The news is out: Carnegie Mellon remains one of the top 25 universities in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The university was ranked 22nd overall, while the undergraduate business and engineering programs ranked sixth and ninth, respectively.

However, Carnegie Mellon did not fare so well in a new Forbes list of colleges and universities, which placed Carnegie Mellon 266th out of 596 institutions.

The information gathered to make these rankings comes from varied sources, including statistics and surveys of students, educators, scholars, and others.

The Forbes ranking system, which placed Carnegie Mellon so low compared to the U.S. News assessment, made its first-ever list this year.

Forbes developed its own ranking methodology, different from that of U.S. News.

Student evaluations of courses and instructors, as written on, and the number of alumni listed among the notable people in Who’s Who in America each constitute 25 percent of the total score in the Forbes ranking.

The other half of the ranking is based equally on three factors: the average student debt at graduation, the four-year graduation rate, and the number of students or faculty who have won nationally competitive awards like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.

Even as lists of rankings of colleges and universities proliferate, they have come under criticism, and general participation by colleges and universities in these surveys has been markedly declining in the past few years.

U.S. News, for example, reported that participation this year is down to 46 percent of four-year institutions, from 51, 58, and 67 percent the three previous years, respectively.

“I am not surprised that participation in the rankings is decreasing,” said Amanda Sturges, a senior business administration and social and decision sciences double major. “So much of what the rankings stand for is a business ploy guiding students toward the best-known and most well-endowed institutions.”

In terms of endowment, Carnegie Mellon ranks 65th with an endowment just over $1 billion, almost 35 times less than the top-endowed school, Harvard University, whose 2008 endowment has climbed to $34.9 billion.

Yet, despite criticism, the now 25-year-old U.S. News rankings remain the most respected of all their rivals.

U.S. News employs a specific formula to judge each institution. The seven main areas of consideration are peer assessment, retention, student selectivity, faculty resources, financial resources, graduation rate performance, and alumni giving rate.

While the exact weighting of these characteristics varies from year to year, the first four of these measures account for 80 percent of the score this year, while the final three account for the remaining 20 percent.

“People take these listings too seriously, as if it were written in stone that these institutions occupy that exact numerical spot, as if that was all there was to their value,” said Mana Ameri, a sophomore materials science and biomedical engineering double major.

According to the U.S. News website, ranks are based on both quantitative measures and a nonpartisan view of “what matters in education ... including first-year experiences, learning communities, writing in the disciplines, senior capstone, study abroad, internships or cooperative education, opportunities for undergraduate research, and service.”

However, there are a few aspects of these factors that have drawn particular criticism.

The alumni giving category, for example, judges not the amount of money that is donated, but rather the number of alumni who make any donation.

Additionally, the peer assessment category alone, which surveys the institution’s reputation among presidents, provosts, and deans of admission of other schools, accounts for 25 percent of the ranking.

According to an August Washington Post article, educators have reported getting paid bonuses to alter their surveys in favor of U.S. News opinions.

“Everyone, especially prospective students, need to understand that ... [these rankings] are very far from defining these schools’ true value and therefore should not be used as the ruler and only instrument with which to figure out your proper fit,” said Vidhi Luthra, a sophomore business administration major.

However, U.S. News and World Report is not the only ranking system being questioned.

“So many factors play into the formula that determines this; so many numbers that tell nothing of a school’s educational quality or teaching potential. These lists are an oversimplification of what each of these colleges stands for” Ameri said.

The U.S. News and Forbes college rankings are joined by a number of others, including Kaplan, Fiske, and The Princeton Review, all of which rank these institutions on their own predetermined set of characteristics.

“I think that our school can’t really move up any list until we get more money,” Sturges said. “There is always a student spending category that we cannot compete with until our endowment grows exponentially.”

For now though, Carnegie Mellon maintains its solid reputation that draws in more first-years with each coming year.