Wonkblog: How to fix our broken system of ranking colleges


Now that I think of it, it’s a little ridiculous that we haven’t pushed for data to rank colleges on the only efficacy standard that should matter vis a vis Federal Student Aid: employability. Argue all you want about the merits of a liberal arts education, but in the real world it doesn’t help you get a job and I don’t think the government needs to offer money to help pay for education unless it has an economic benefit.

I went to a school that offered detailed employability statistics for all of their programs, including a list of the companies that hired graduates. Of course, I also went to a school that offered a top-10 in the country program in all of the traditional engineering disciplines (mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical) as well as arguably the best computer science program in the country. My alma mater is not the institution the government is worrying about when it comes to educational efficacy.

Which leads me to my tangential thought here: upper-middle class white kids (as I was when I applied to college) are often swayed by US News and World Report college rankings, which educators and parents often find (correctly) to be very flawed. I was going to draw the comparison here, but I realized it doesn’t actually matter. The things rich white people do to help their children pick a college are immaterial to the plight of higher education in this country, and while state schools do a lot of stupid things to attract (wealthy) students, the worst ones aren’t directly tied to their US News ranking. And as far as my peers struggling to get jobs…18 year olds aren’t good at advance planning. If they were, they’d realize getting an engineering degree from UMass or SUNY will make you many, many times more employable than getting an English degree from Williams. Doesn’t matter how good a school Williams is, English degrees are a poor investment.

And that is, in a nutshell, why the program-by-program gainful employment data being described here would be so helpful. We need numbers to show our children that English degrees and Psychology degrees are wastes of money, while Engineering degrees and Business degrees are not. Of course this doesn’t apply if you’re rich enough or well-connected enough to pursue “education for its own sake”, or be able to have “Harvard” or “Princeton” printed on the top of your diploma. But I’m talking from the real world.


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