– Allison Goldsberry
We all love rankings. We all love “top ten” or “top 100″ or “top whatever” lists. They give us guidance. They validate our stubbornly held opinions. They are nice, neat cheat sheets that help us make decisions- or justify them- in a complicated world.
It’s a difficult, emotional decision to figure out where to go to school. List creators know this, and there are plenty of school rankings out there take advantage of college selection angst by compiling so-called definitive lists of the best schools.
Forbes.com recently presented its own list. What is unique about this list is it focuses on “output” rather than “input”; where students go and what they do after graduation as opposed to what got them into college.
The Forbes ranking takes into consideration student satisfaction, loan debt, salaries, and graduation rate, among other factors. While some of these measures are subjective, and some are a bit misleading, it is certainly a step in the right direction to focus on what students get out of their education post-college rather than comparing SAT scores and GPA’s.
Which brings us to Medford’s own Tufts University. Tufts is ranked 24th on this list, not too shabby but not exactly eye-popping, either. Harvard is ranked 8th, MIT 10th. What does this even mean, and does it even matter?
I’m a Tufts University graduate and will be attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the fall. I can honestly say with a straight face that rankings don’t mean much to me. I chose both schools because of the programs they offered and the value I got for my money. I received financial aid and have taken out student loans to pay for my education, and know I’m lucky I’m able attend these schools. I also know if the cost to attend them would put me in substantial debt I wouldn’t be able to go.
Cost and debt are the most significant factors in choosing a school, and Forbes is at least trying to demonstrate this in its latest ranking. We need to consider what we can realistically afford, what jobs will be available upon graduation, and how much debt will be incurred. Student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt in America, and the economy is still pretty lethargic. If things don’t change, if schools can’t demonstrate a more favorable “output” instead of bragging about all of their “input”, then lists like Forbes’ will get shorter and shorter.
I personally think Tufts deserves a higher ranking. Tufts is a top contributor to the Peace Corps, which no doubt hurt its ranking on the salary scale. The school imbues a sense of active citizenship into all of its students, and many leave with hopes of changing the world in some capacity, and not necessarily with hopes of making six figures as soon as possible. Many students choose jobs for social change over say, investment banking.
The Forbes list also doesn’t capture the affect of a student’s socioeconomic status on college choice and educational outcome. Many low income students don’t even consider attending top schools, even if they will qualify for significant financial aid, because they are never encouraged to apply. Wealthier students that attend more exclusive, and usually expensive, schools not only have the means to attend these schools, they also have the financial support to help them survive after graduation. As much as we like to consider America a land of rags to riches, there is much less social mobility than we think. Wealth usually begets wealth, and the reverse is also true.
There is hope that rankings that focus on post (rather than pre) college success of students will lead to a much better understanding of a school’s real value.