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More Meaningless Rankings?
by Silence Dogood

It is not hard to find rankings for colleges and universities; a simple online search will reveal a host of different ones. Clearly, some are better than others. Niche is one of the more popular that is available by signing up for a free account.

Just being curious and having nothing better to do, I searched for St Cloud State University and the following page came up:

While I’m not sure about how all of the rankings are tabulated, an Overall Niche Grade of C looked average and unimpressive. In Lake Wobegon (i.e., Minnesota), according to Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” I’d also like to think of myself as being above average so this is a bit disappointing.

On the bottom right of the image, there is a list of the schools to which St. Cloud State University is frequently compared. So I clicked on the link for Minnesota State University and the following page came up:

So by whatever measures are used, SCSU’s main rival comes out ahead on the scorecard. I think I’d be a lot happier be a B- instead of a C!

A more detailed look at the rankings shows that SCSU is ahead of rival Mankato in terms of:

The two universities are tied for:

Mankato tops SCSU in the following categories:

Unfortunately, the list where Mankato tops SCSU is far longer and the categories are probably more important measures of quality of a university (especially the first two measures). It is understandable with these rankings why MSU—Mankato ranks as a B- compared with SCSU’s C.

However, in looking at the data, what jumped out was the numbers for the acceptance rate. MSU—Mankato’s acceptance rate is 66%, which means that about 2 out of 3 of the students who apply are admitted. Contrast Mankato’s acceptance rate of 66% with SCSU’s acceptance rate of 87%! Essentially, just about everyone who applies for admission to SCSU gets in. So much, as one former SCSU President aspired, for SCSU to become the “Harvard of the Midwest.” In the past, SCSU was considered the “flagship” of the system and was the most difficult of the system universities to gain admittance while Mankato was considered to have an ‘open door policy’ for anyone applying being admitted. Clearly times have changed.

Also on the list of frequent comparisons was Winona State University. I’ve always had a pretty good impression of WSU and always thought of them as being a bit more selective for admissions. I clicked on the link for Winona State University. The following page came up:

According to the Niche data, the Overall Niche Grade for Winona State University ranks ahead of both SCSU and MSU—Mankato. Clearly, Winona State University has a large number of rankings of As and Bs. However, what is most striking is their acceptance rate is only 61% so clearly out of the three universities they are the most selective.

Does having a more selective admission standard make for a better university? If the quality of all of the applicants is the same, one might make the case for that university being at least academically ‘better.’ However, the quality of the faculty and staff and the resources available might be significantly more important measures of quality. Ultimately, it is the prospective student who gets to decide how important each of these measures is to them. Unfortunately, when you rank behind your competitors on more of these measures, you make it a lot easier for a prospective student to choose to go somewhere else. It’s a shame that SCSU currently ranks so low. It wasn’t always that way.

3 Responses to “Ranking universities made simple”

  • Nick says:

    Niche.com was formerly known as collegeprowler.com

  • Nick says:

    St. Cloud State University was ranked #8 three years ago for universities with the worst professors: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/25-universities-with-the-worst-professors-204146173.html

  • Gerald Johnson says:

    The bigger point that needs to be recognized here is not that one or the other within MnSCU is ranked in comparison to other members – but rather how they compare regionally and dare I say nationally. We need these institutions to aspire to be more like Truman State University – a larger regional university that has decent research expenditures (300ish/600) and a very high regional ranking (USNews #8).

    If the author was to look at, for example, the Washington Monthly they would see Saint Cloud ranked at #167 while Minnesota State is ranked at #461. The main reason? SCSU reports extremely high volunteer hours to the local community and scores way higher in the ranking as a result. So take some ranking criteria with a grain of salt.

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