Searching for good colleges in the suburbs

Newsweek recently put together a list of desirable colleges. One of the lists is the “25 most desirable suburban schools.” A couple of questions:

1. Are there people who specifically search for a college because it is located in a suburb? I can see the appeal to many of applying to a college in a big city – but I doubt being located in a suburb tops many lists of what people are looking for in a college.

2. I would take issue with whether several of these schools are suburban schools. The University of Notre Dame? It may have its own address and zip code but it is basically surrounded by South Bend. The real suburbs of the area, a place like Granger, are miles away. The University of Virginia is located in Charlottesville, roughly 70 miles from Richmond. For these two cases, this is a very loose definition of a suburb.

Ranking universities around the world

Ranking American colleges and universities has become a lucrative industry with a number of publications developing rankings. This quest has been extended to ranking universities around the world but there is tension between two of the important rankings and their methodologies:

Times Higher Education produced rankings for the first time this year without the collaboration of Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. Along with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings, the World University Rankings that Times Higher Education and QS published together from 2004 until last year have become the most closely watched and influential university rankings in the world.

Quacquarelli Symonds has continued to produce those rankings, now called the QS World University Rankings, and is partnering with U.S. News and World Report for their publication in the United States.

The relationship between the former collaborators has deteriorated into barely veiled animosity.

While there may be some issues between those who produce the two sets of rankings, the Times Higher Education claims it has an improved methodology which emphasizes different features of a school:

Foremost among the criticisms of the previous compilation was that it relied too heavily on a reputational survey of academics, based on fewer than 4,000 responses in 2009. THE’s new methodology is based on 13 indicators in five broad performance categories—teaching (weighted 30 percent); research influence as measured in citations (32.5 percent); research, based on volume, income, and reputation (30 percent); internationalization, based on student and staff ratios (5 percent); and knowledge transfer and innovation based on industry income (2.5 percent).

Times Higher Education said that the new system was the only global ranking to devote a section to teaching. The new methodology is much more evidence-based and relies far less on subjective criteria than the old tables, said Mr. Baty. But whereas teaching was previously measured based solely on student-staff ratio, the new rankings incorporate a reputational survey.

Which rankings system is “better” will be decided by a variety of actors. Of course, the rankings will likely differ because of the different weights placed on different university traits. The newest rankings from Times Higher Education are favorable toward American schools and UC-Berkeley made quite a jump up.

Overall, these rankings can be very powerful, not just for prestige purposes but also for helping to determining the global flow of students and money. Additionally, the companies producing and publishing the rankings have a financial stake in how the rankings are perceived both by schools and the public.