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It’s a Name Game

Every year college rankings are produced from multiple different sources:  Newsweek, US News, Princeton Review. The colleges are ranked on a number of different qualities, but when looking at the academic rankings, almost all of the different rankings contain the same schools. The top universities on the lists include the Ivy’s, the top technical schools such as MIT and CalTech, and top state universities such as Georgia Tech and University of Michigan Ann Arbor. It is usually taken for granted that these schools are on the top of the list because they are the best, but as Forbes Magazine pointed out, these college rankings may be flawed. The article “Rethinking The Ratings: Newsweek Left out 3 Essential Metrics of a Top College” make the point that the Newsweek ratings fail to take into consideration a school’s ability to increase the student’s independence and critical thinking, provide truly important experiences for innovation such as internships, and create an environment where students are involved in the outside community. If these factors were not taken into consideration when ranking the colleges, I would like to pose the question, are these rankings truly accurate, and do the similarities between the rankings have to do with an information cascade?

The Ivy League schools will continually do well in college rankings because of their names. When an employer sees the Cornell University insignia on a student’s resume, or sees that the potential employee is a Harvard graduate, there is an incredible bias to believe that this person is smarter and harder working than other potential employees. A similar story can be told for the other continually high ranked universities such as MIT and U Michigan. The bias caused by the school’s name is part of an information cascade.  Employers base hiring decisions on the fact that they are continuously told that certain schools produce great employees, so they follow the crowd and hire an alumni of a “top” university which adds another statistic to the rankings which encourages even more employers to continue to hire from these prestigious universities.

Because of this cascade, which occurs when newly graduated students are just entering the workforce, it is very difficult for smaller and less known universities to get their names into the top rankings. The information cascade continues to benefit the current leaders in the rankings. As a Cornell student, I am not disagreeing that the schools listed at the top of the rankings are great universities and prepare students well for the “real world”; however, as the article stated, there are important qualities which are often left out of rankings, and if these were included, then perhaps the rankings turn out differently.



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