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Raters of the liberal arts

UM Baltimore GraduationMF30AThe new college and university rankings from U.S. News & World Report are out. And after you have checked on where your alma mater stands (mine is at No. 18 among regional universities), you should read The Atlantic’s concise roundup about why you should ignore these ratings.

John Tierney lumps the U.S. News rankings in with junk food and celebrity obsession as something we consume though it’s bad for us. What’s wrong with the list? A sampling:

*U.S. News changes what it measures, so it’s hard to compare one year with another.

*“Because the rankings have a popular audience, they encourage colleges and universities to game the system.” Or outright cheat.

*There is no measure of educational outcomes. You know, like getting a job.

*“A very substantial chunk (22.5 to 25 percent) of an institution’s ranking comes not from any hard data but from a ‘reputational’ measure, in which U.S. News solicits ‘peer assessments’ from college presidents, provosts and admissions directors, as well as input from high-school counselors.” Hmm. Sounds like college football’s Top 25.

Tierney says the rankings can provide a “rough guide” to colleges, but “using the U.S. News rankings for any more exacting purpose is about as good for you as eating potato chips and Gummy Bears for dinner. With maple syrup.”