Miami’s rank in publications like the Princeton Review and the US News and World Report does matter. It is understandable that the university normally embraces positive rankings and tries to explain away poor ones by objecting to their validity or methodology. Despite the unfairness of these rankings — the inability to capture the Miami experience in just a number — they remain instrumental to the college search process, especially for first generation college students, so the university needs to play the game. We need to posture, manipulate and window dress in order to advance our rank, especially in the two aforementioned lists. Better to feed the beast than to be swallowed by it.
Whether they judge us positively or negatively, none of the ranks that boil down multiple components to produce a single number score are legitimate. In the US News and World Report, Miami ranked 62nd in 2005, 66th in 2006 and 2009 and this year we’ve fallen to 77th. Last year, the US News and World Report considered Miami to be a better school than Worcester Polytechnic Institute, but this year the company believes Worcester Polytechnic Institute to be the better institution. So for any sophomores who had narrowed their college search down to WPI and Miami, it is not too late to transfer, but remember that doing so will hurt us in the ranks. Although, maybe you have been reading the Princeton Review, where Miami’s overall score improved this year, and you are willing to stay.
To be clear, these rankings are all inaccurate. Should the university ignore them, refusing to acknowledge any sort of rank that these self-serving lists provide us? Or should we continue to let each list’s treatment of us determine our treatment of it? That is, read a titillated university president’s remarks on the positive movement in the Princeton Review and contrast them with his disgruntled comments on the US News and World Report following a rankings drop. Or, we could be proactive, taking steps to tweak our rank by manipulating the metrics. For example, if we could solicit a flood of applications from wholly unqualified students and then reject them all, we would increase our measured selectivity and improve our rank. We could also always cap classes at 19 and 49 so that we capitalize in the class size scores, but the professors would need to teach more sections and would probably prefer not to do so. It is not right, but it might prove effective.
The best thing for the university is to strive to be like Iowa, which has a rank similar to ours but also excels tremendously in particular programs (first in creative writing). The best strategy, then, is to focus on pushing programs, one at a time, into their respective top tens with excessive resources and attention. Getting recognized for more top programs rather than an overall general good regard for the school would positively affect peer assessments, which are a huge component of these rankings. Simultaneously, we need to improve those components that are legitimate benefits to Miami students. Namely, our graduation rate, which is one of the highest in the nation among public schools, could be pushed even higher. Next, the university has to find more funding for research. President Hodge noted that the US News and World Report measures input more than output and a major component of input is funding for research, so this goal dually improves our rank and benefits undergraduate students. Truly, nothing that is good for the school will drop us in the rankings, so perhaps President Hodge’s job performance should be judged by our movement in ranks as well as by improvement in college affordability.