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Spike in college rankings receives mixed student reactions

While college rankings may be on the rise and holding more and more clout in the college decision process, Boston University students said they did not base their college choice solely on college and university rankings.

As noted in a Sunday New York Times article, rankings that order college by value or return of investment are becoming increasingly popular.

“It’s something that should be considered, but not something that should make your final decision,” said School of Management sophomore Steph Strager. “You should pick a school based on the qualities it has that you like, rather than where it stands on a list.”

Strager said chose BU after considering the value a degree from BU would hold after graduation in the eyes of employers.

“You have to look at college like an investment,” she said. “It’s what you’re getting out of it. BU is a very expensive school. For the amount you’re paying, you should come out of it with a degree that’s really worth something.”

In October 2012, BU graduates were ranked 17th most employable college graduates in the world in a survey published in The New York Times.

Less than a year later in September 2013, BU jumped ten spots in the U.S. News and World Report’s National University Rankings 2013-14, from 51st place to 41st place. In October, BU also saw an improvement within the Times Higher Education 2013-14 World University Rankings, moving from 54th place to 50th place.

Rankings have also focused on the supposed value of colleges.

For example, Washington Monthly’s September/October issue included the 2013 Best Bang for the Buck Rankings of colleges and universities, which orders schools based on the economic value of graduates’ degrees, in addition to its traditional rankings of colleges and universities.

“Focusing on value makes sense for the vast majority of people who are looking to get a decent education for a decent price,” said Washington Monthly Web Editor Ryan Cooper in an interview.

Of the 1,572 institutions ranked in Washington Monthly’s traditional rankings, only 349 met the qualifications to be included in the “Best Bang for the Buck” rankings list. While Boston University was ranked at 120th place in the traditional Washington Monthly National University Rankings, BU did not appear on the Best Bang for Buck Rankings list.

The “Best Bang for the Buck” rankings list is designed to give visibility to lesser-known schools and provide prospective students with an alternative to more mainstream rankings, Cooper said.

“There’s rankings in U.S. News that are based on prestige and high status,” he said. “That’s great for the upper crest of society, but most people still go to regular public universities and community colleges.”

In order for a school to qualify for the “Best Bang for the Buck list,” at least 20 percent of its students must be receiving Pell Grants. The college’s graduation rate must exceed 50 percent and the graduation rate must also exceed the statistically predicted graduation rate for the school given the number of admitted low-income students. In addition, graduates must earn enough to be able to repay their student loans.

BU School of Education Associate Dean of Research Scott Solberg said organizations have mostly ranked BU high on lists based on return on investment.

“The initial reviews on return on investment for Boston University compared to other public universities as well as other private [universities] is that we’re pretty strong,” he said. “Students who graduate from Boston University are getting jobs that are paying back their loans and providing them with a good return throughout their lifetime.”

College of Arts and Sciences senior Amar Alam  said putting too much stock in college rankings reinforces a superficial mindset about schools that might not always be accurate.

“Socially, we are trained to put emphasis on ratings,” she said. “It’s that competiveness that society encompasses in general. You always feel that if you don’t go to a top-ranking college, you won’t get a good job, because that’s what people look at.”

CAS senior Drew Berry said while considering the value of a degree from a specific college is important to take into account, a college degree in itself holds significant value.

“Tuition is becoming so expensive,” he said. “It’s so hard for people to afford college these days, so it’s ‘oh, I want to get my money’s worth if I’m going to pay $60,000 a year to go to school.’

Taryn Ottaunick contributed to the reporting of this article.

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