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Skepticism in the U.S. News & World Report Ranking System

Front entrance of Spring Arbor University

As new college and university rankings are released today by U.S. News & World Report, we want to take a moment to consider the actual value and decision-making power ranking systems like this hold. Traditionally, ranking systems have dominated the discourse surrounding higher education. Recently, the U.S. News & World Report ranking system, once considered the premier ranking system for institutions of higher education, has emerged as a source of concern for universities and colleges across the United States and is now being deemed by some as an archaic model that fails to accurately represent the value and qualities of most institutions.

The U.S. News & World Report’s ranking system, despite its alleged objectivity, inherently favors state-funded institutions and Ivy League schools. Even with that, highly respected and nationally recognized institutions such as Yale Law School, Harvard Medical School, and Stanford Law School are calling for a boycott of the 80-year-old ranking system and refusing to submit data for upcoming rankings, citing unreliable and skewed educational priorities in the system.

U.S. News & World Report’s criteria heavily emphasize financial resources, selectivity, and reputation, placing smaller institutions like SAU at a disadvantage in their efforts to bring students to their campuses. The system fails to account for the distinct missions and values that Christian liberal arts universities bring to the table. The metrics of this system often overlook the holistic education provided by Christian universities. While it places great emphasis on research output, faculty credentials, alumni giving, and other weighted metrics, it fails to capture the transformative experiences and personal growth that smaller universities like SAU foster through their faith-based education. By solely focusing on quantitative measures, the system neglects the qualitative aspects that make these institutions truly exceptional.

As noted in our Concept, Spring Arbor University’s commitment to nurturing students’ spiritual growth, character development, and community engagement goes beyond the narrow criteria employed by the ranking system. SAU cultivates an environment that fosters moral leadership, social responsibility, and a dedication to service, providing students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for a purposeful life beyond graduation.

Part of what makes an education at a place like SAU a transformative experience is because of the close-knit learning communities that students become a part of. With personalized attention from faculty and staff, mentorship, and support provided by many members of the SAU community, it fosters an environment conducive to deep learning and individual growth. Unfortunately, the U.S. News & World ranking system prioritizes student-faculty ratios without considering the meaningful connections and mentorship opportunities. 

Paired with a faith-based education, these experiences at small, Christian higher education institutions play a pivotal role in shaping students’ personal growth as well as academic success. These invaluable aspects are difficult to quantify, yet they profoundly impact students’ lives and contribute to their long-term success and fulfillment.

There are alternative approaches that can be made to ensure that the quality and effectiveness of small Christian, liberal arts universities are measured. A holistic assessment that includes student outcomes such as graduation rates, alumni success stories, career placement, and community impact would provide quantitative results for such metrics, while qualitative aspects like student satisfaction, spiritual growth, and personal growth can be measured as well. Other measurements such as mission alignment evaluation, peer evaluation, and customized metrics specifically for the distinctive features of small Christian liberal arts universities would make for more inclusive rankings than the outdated ranking systems currently in place.

We encourage prospective students and parents to consider factors that truly matter in their educational journey – personal fit, mission alignment, and the opportunity for holistic growth – rather than simply looking at the face value of traditional ranking systems. By doing so, we can foster a diverse and vibrant educational landscape that celebrates the unique contributions of each institution and prioritizes the individual needs and aspirations of students.