The Obama administration wants to produce new ratings that will allow prospective college students to identify institutions with high graduation rates, solid job placement records and generous student aid. But what if students just want to be happy?
“A study discussed in Insidehigher Ed today documents the statistically significant impact of several Princeton Review rankings of colleges on quality-of-life issues. A”t least according to the study, applicants may be be swayed not just by academics (or the qualities the Obama administration wants to highlight) but by rankings that indicate that students are happy, and think that their campus is beautiful.
“The quality-of-life ranking of the Princeton Review that receives by far the most press attention (party school), however, does not appear to have much of an impact on the applicant pool, with the exception of a decline in applications only evident among out-of-state students.
“Princeton Review rankings are fairly well known in admissions circles for their limitations. The rankings are based entirely on student surveys at their own institutions. So students are reacting to how they feel about student happiness, interaction with professors and the quality of food — without any basis for comparison to other institutions. No part of the ranking actually involves anyone comparing institutions. But the study being released today — being published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis — says that these rankings matter to prospective students. (The article abstract is available here.)
Among the findings:
- When a college makes the top 20 list for “happy students,” applications go up by 2.9 percent, as does the academic competitiveness of the incoming class.
- When the college makes the top 20 list for “most beautiful campus,” applications go up by 2.3 percent, as does the academic competitiveness of the incoming class.
- Making the list of “least happy students” results in an application decline of 5 percent.
- Making the list for “least beautiful campus,” (formerly called the “unsightly, tiny campus” category) results in a 5.2 percent decrease.
- Just as there is minimal impact from the party school designation, the study found no impact from being designated a “stone cold sober” or “jock” college. The paper suggests that there is enough self-selection in the student bodies of institutions that lead these lists that the designations don’t matter. It is after all hardly a revelation to find Brigham Young University on top of the sober list.