By Richard Vedder
The rankings season is upon us, and we at CCAP are more than abundantly aware of that, as we have been busily preparing the second annual Forbes/CCAP rankings of colleges, out in less than two weeks. We believe rankings provide consumers information that lead to more intelligent college choices, and we therefore gladly participate in them. Moreover, we have devised a ranking system that is relatively expenditure-neutral, not dramatically favoring the nation's richest schools. By constructing such an index, we are doing our bit to moderate the "academic arms race" where schools try to outspend one another to gain ranking prestige.
The first of the rankings are out, by Princeton Review. Most academics have complete contempt for these rankings, and it is true that they are a bit less scientific than others, and cover somewhat fewer schools. Nonetheless, they are popular because they reflect the feelings of students, not academic administrators or aged scholars like myself. And they survey things others rankings do not.
Most famous, of course, are the party school rankings. Jordan Templeton and I took the top 20 schools on this year's new top party school list from Princeton Review, as well as the top 20 party schools on the latest Playboy list, which included 10 schools also on the Princeton Review list. We asked the question: are "party schools" ranked highly or lowly on their more traditional (academic) virtues?
Comparing the top party schools from both lists with the 2008 Forbes rankings, we found that top academic schools (in the top 100 of nearly 600 ranked) were underrepresented on the party lists --3 of 30 schools. There were exceptions --Union College, DePauw University, and Sewanee, for example, were ranked high academically and all made Princeton Review's Top 20 party schools.
On the whole, however, the party schools were a pretty undistinguished lot, with over half ranking below the median of all the schools surveyed (the picture using the still unreleased 2009 Forbes rankings would not be much different, nor would it be very different using the rankings of US News & World Report). Schools where students play hard do not necessarily work hard as well. This, more broadly, is a big problem for American higher education. Over 40 percent of students do not graduate within six years, a majority are doing academic pursuits less than 30 hours per week (if surveys are at all accurate), but they receive what historically are perceived to be good grades (B average or better) with little work. Should we be encouraging greater enrollments and participation in a system where the so little is expected of so many?
I teach at a school on both the Princeton Review and Playboy Party School lists, Ohio University (my sidekick Andy Gillen outdoes me, however, as he received his undergraduate degree at #5 Ohio University and his PhD from #9 Florida State University). Shortly before the Princeton Review rankings came out, Ohio University released a study claiming binge drinking is down among undergraduates --only 72.7 percent of students had engaged in binge drinking (five or more drinks) in the previous two weeks, down from a previous 78 percent. Since probably only 50 percent of students can drink legally, the survey reveals that roughly half, conservatively, of underage students engage in illegal drinking of massive proportions. And the University applauds itself on this result. Perhaps if professors gave C and D grades, demanded more work, and if block parties and other silliness were banned, we might get a more serious student body (the new Ohio University parking hang tags feature three football players in what appears to be party mode, a great way to downplay the party image!!). Maybe Chinese students are too up tight and serious, but Americans are too loose, hedonistic and frivolous about learning.