Mark L. Hopkins: Your university in the top 20
The U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges and universities each year. So does Barron’s and the Princeton Review. Yet the criteria for ranking universities is so suspect that many universities are not included because they refuse to submit their data for comparison. They don’t want to be a part of the deception. The key question for consideration is, “Can U.S. universities be ranked?
I was visiting universities in India a few years ago, and over the course of a week was on the campus of both the University of Delhi and the University of Bombay (now called Mumbai). At both locations I looked at the university’s catalogs, most specifically, at the business offerings. Both offer the business commerce degree that is common with United Kingdom universities. Noting the courses and content I commented to the dean of business at UB, “Your curriculum is very similar to that of the University of Delhi.”
He responded, “Yes, they are identical. India, as you know, is a democracy, and we want every student, no matter where they live to have the same opportunity.”
In my mind I pondered this statement and contrasted it with the reality of similar situations in the U.S. The dean from Bombay was proud of the similarity of the equal opportunity provided. By contrast, if you suggested to a university president in the US. that his institution was just like another he would be offended. Why? By their design American universities are to be responsive to the needs of the people they are created to serve. Since no two populations are the same, no two universities are the same either. One cannot copy the programming of another and expect to serve well the needs of the local constituency.
For example, Michigan is a state where the dominant industry is the production of automobiles, trucks and tractors. To prepare their people to work in those industries the University of Michigan and Michigan State University have academic programs in automotive, electronic and plastics engineering.
By contrast, the state of Missouri is dominantly an agricultural state, with very little automobile or truck production. Thus, the University of Missouri has excellent agriculture programs but limited programs in automotive related engineering.
Now, reason out the answer to this question: “If Michigan excels in engineering and Missouri excels in agriculture, how then can we rank these two institutions whose programming is like apples and oranges? Add to the mix the University of Colorado, which excels in mining technology, the University of Southern California (just a few miles from Hollywood), which excels in art, music, and the various areas of the performing arts, and many other universities across the country with diverse programming.
How about Harvard, which always seems to be at the top of anyone’s rankings for U.S. universities? Hasn’t everyone heard of Harvard? Wasn’t it our first university? (Did you know the College of Charleston was the third university established in the U.S.?)
Harvard offers no engineering or agriculture at all. If I want to be an engineer or a farmer, I can’t even consider Harvard. On the other hand, if I want theology, business, education, or the arts and sciences, Harvard can be included on my search list.
Clemson would like to be No. 1, or at least in the top 20 of the U.S. universities. Unlike comparing football teams, where you can sometimes decide who is No. 1 on the field, a university’s academic ranking is at best mythical.
Ratings are good for a university to list, especially when they make the school look good.
Unfortunately, you can’t compare apples and oranges. Higher education in the U.S. is more like the fruit salad served at a church supper.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” is now available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Contact him at email@example.com.