Boston University received its highest ranking yet on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the nation’s best colleges. The rankings, released Tuesday, show BU jumped 10 spots between 2012-13 and 2013-14 from 51st to 41st among national universities.
The rankings are based on a system that analyzes high school standing, faculty, financial resources and graduation and retention rates, among other factors. With covetable Ivy League universities taking top spots on the list, a higher ranking can help establish a school’s academic credibility.
BU President Robert Brown credited the “Choosing to Be Great” initiative, an outline of goals created in 2007 set to help BU grow into a more prestigious and commendable university, as contributing to the spike in rankings, according to a Sept. 11 Daily Free Press article.
Brown was right. BU’s higher ranking was due to advances in academic reputation, financial resources, graduation and retention rates, admissions data and faculty resources, said Robert Morse, a U.S. News and World Report Director of Data Research, in a Daily Free Press article published on Sept. 11.
With construction projects on every corner of campus and an acceptance into the Association of American Universities, it is obvious the administration is doing much to upgrade the university. But BU’s improvement should not be reduced to a subjective figure on a list. While it is nice to have bragging rights over friends who attend lower-ranked universities, the college experience does not translate well into numbers. Too much of education is not quantifiable.
BU is a large research university with a variety of different departments with varying objectives and goals, so judging the quality of academics on a blanket analysis does not work. Where BU focuses on pre-professional programs cannot be easily compared to where Harvard University stresses a liberal arts background.
Rather than a never-ending national list, it would be much more effective to compare BU to similar institutions, such as New York University, George Washington University or University of Southern California – schools Brown has labeled peers – on more nuanced factors in order to accurately measure academic quality.
While it is absurd to reduce the quality of a university to a number, prospective students do indeed pay attention. As flawed as they are, rankings are easy to grasp. They make it simpler to conceptualize if, say, BU is a better fit for a prospective student than Northeastern University, and therefore, these individuals are drawn to them. Furthermore, many parents relish what seems to be a more definite indicator of the returns on their investments from sending students to school.
BU’s ranking is as accurate as an arbitrary list can be. Plans to improve the university have been in effect for several years, and they are now beginning to bear fruit. But for now, there is more work to be done to reach what we as a community feel is our greatest potential.