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College Rankings and Surveys

Craig Pearson, PhD, Executive Vice-President, Maharishi University of Management

Maharishi University of Management has recently joined with a growing number of other colleges that decline to participate in the U.S. News and World Report “best colleges” rankings.

Nor do we participate in Money magazine’s college-ranking issue. See where we do participate

What does it mean that you don’t participate?

Every year every college and university in the U.S. is asked by U.S. News and World Report to gather extensive information about itself and then send this data to their editors. This is a very burdensome task which yields no benefit to us, and so we do not spend valuable time or resources in this way.

There is another way we don’t participate. Every year U.S. News and World Report sends me a booklet listing several hundred other colleges and universities — and then asks me to rate these schools using various measures. Several other academic leaders at MUM receive these booklets, as do the top leaders at 3,600 other U.S. colleges and universities.

I page through the list and see scores upon scores of schools I have never even heard of. How am I supposed to rate these schools? Based on what knowledge? I have personally visited a number of colleges and universities — but even that does not enable me to offer a valid assessment of the quality of the educational experience they provide their students.

Yet this is how U.S. News and World Report calculates the reputation of a school — and the reputation score is perhaps the most heavily-weighted number in their formula.

At MUM, we do not return these booklets.

Then why does MUM still appear in the U.S. News rankings?

When schools do not return the requested information, U.S. News will try to gather the information from other sources, for better or worse, and then rank the school anyway. There is some evidence the magazine has dropped schools’ rankings for not complying with their requests for information.

Why does MUM appear in the second tier of the rankings?

The rankings are based primarily on a school’s wealth and prestige. Because we are a young university, we do not have a large endowment, and we are not well known. Hence the ranking.

But these rankings tell you nothing about what students experience at these schools, how they learn, how they change and grow, how they experience the school’s quality of life, whether the school’s alumni value the time they spent there. Yet these are exactly the things that many students (and their parents) want most to know.

MUM produces outcomes that are completely off the U.S. News radar screen — improved brain functioning, increased intelligence and creativity, increased moral maturity. It offers students a quality of educational experience that U.S. News is simply not interested in — but many students are.

Are you saying it’s not valid to rank schools numerically?

A numerical ranking is meaningless. No single number can capture the experience of attending a college or university — its breadth and depth, its educational approach, the quality of its people.

Suppose, moreover, that U.S. News says the top school in America is Harvard. Does this really make sense? For the many thousands of students who prefer to go to a smaller school, or a school closer to home, or a school offering a program that Harvard does not offer, Harvard is not going to be their number one choice, even if they could be accepted. Nor is there evidence that a Harvard education guarantees you a better job when you graduate, or a higher salary, or greater professional success or personal fulfillment.

Are there other reasons for your decision?

The ranking system assumes that one size fits all. Yet America is world famous for the diversity of its colleges and universities. We have small private colleges and large public universities, community colleges and four-year colleges, military academies and faith-based schools, schools in rural areas and in large cities, schools with fewer than 500 students and more than 50,000 students. These institutions serve students with different needs and interests. They simply cannot be given a number and then ranked.

The methodology and usefulness of college rankings have been widely criticized by leaders throughout higher education, including those whose schools rank highly. How can the experience and value of attending a particular college be reduced to a number? Particularly a highly subjective number?

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that almost all U.S. News factors are redundant and can be boiled down to one characteristic — the size of the college’s endowment.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 1994 that colleges and universities manipulate their data — and distort priorities and resource allocations — to raise their rankings in U.S. News.

Do you participate in any rankings or guides then?

We do contribute information to other well-established college guides that do not assign numerical rankings to institutions. These include:

  • Petersen’s Guide to Colleges
  • College Boards
  • Wintergreen

These guides attempt to describe more fully the experience, student culture, and academic environment at different schools.

We also participate in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the most comprehensive assessment of effective practices in higher education. NSSE is co-sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning. NSSE assesses the level of student participation in the learning process. NSSE results consistently show that MUM provides students with an engaging and personally meaningful education. In the most recent analysis of results, for example, in the category of “Educational and Personal Growth,” MUM freshmen and senior students had significantly higher scores than their counterparts at other universities in the following areas:

  • Understanding yourself
  • Understanding people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds
  • Contributing to the welfare of your community
  • Developing a deeper sense of spirituality
  • Working effectively with others

We also participate periodically in the nationally standardized American College Testing (ACT) alumni survey. Our alumni are exceptionally satisfied with the education they’ve received at Maharishi University of Management.

We also periodically make use of the Student Satisfaction Inventory, developed by Noel-Levitz, Inc. and used by colleges and universities nationwide.

Finally, to measure the enormous personal growth our students experience, we have developed our own measures that go beyond the student outcomes measured at other schools – for example, our Brain Integration Progress Report. No other school of higher education even attempts to produce or has the technology to evaluate these exceptional outcomes.

What is my best source of information as a prospective student?

We recommend visiting any school you are considering. What does it feel like to be there? Do students seem fulfilled by their learning experience? Does the school offer the programs you’re interested in? Do the faculty seem caring as well as knowledgeable? How much contact will you have with them? Would you enjoy living there for four years?

You won’t find this information in U.S. News and World Report. The rankings are based on data that has nothing to do with what you’ll experience.

We invite you to visit Maharishi University of Management. The quality of education and the experience you’ll find here simply cannot be captured either in words or rankings.


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