As a conservative, small-town Midwesterner, I get a great deal of amusement out of the education coverage in the New York Times. I have never quite understood the newspaper’s consistent focus on the most elite portions of America’s educational systems, from kindergartens which cost more than most colleges (is the neighborhood school really that bad) to the special section of the website regarding the Ivy League. In that light, I was interested when several friends sent me the NYT’s take on college rankings and surprised to find a discussion that didn’t focus solely on the Ivy League.
In Saturday’s edition of the paper, columnist Joe Nocera noted some of the limitations of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, such as rewarding selectivity and spending more money regardless of outcomes. (I’ve written plenty on this topic.) He notes that the Washington Monthly rankings do seek to reward colleges which effectively educate their students, and also states that a reduced focus on institutional prestige might help reduce student stress.
I am hardly a fan of Nocera (who is best known for comparing Tea Party supporters to terrorists), but the piece is worth a read. I highly recommend reading through the comments on the article, as they show a sharp divide between commenters who believe that attending solid—but not elite—colleges is a good investment and those who believe strongly in attending an elite institution. For those of us who are not regular readers of the Gray Lady, the comments also give us an idea of what some of America’s elite think about the value of certain types of higher education.