Forbes’ “America’s Best Colleges” list was released this summer with Cal Poly ranking in at No. 177 out of 610 schools. U.S. News jumped on the praising bandwagon and declared the university the “Best in the West” among public master’s programs.
To compile the list, Forbes chose only the top 9 percent out of 6,600 four-year academic institutions nationwide.
Cal Poly has risen nearly 200 spots since Forbes’ first edition of rankings in 2008 — from 369 to 201 in 2009 and to 177 this year. Among California schools, Cal Poly was rated no. 21, with many University of California campuses, such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Davis, ranking higher.
In determining rankings, Forbes consideres 11 factors from five general categories: graduate success rate (based on salary); student satisfaction on RateMyProfessors.com and MyPlan.com; the amount of debt incurred; the “overall student default rate,” and the actual rate of graduating students compared to both the national average and a “predicted rate, based on characteristics of the school.” The overall price of tuition was also a factor.
Forbes details the exact percentage these characteristics are weighted on its website but does not present the parameters of the study for some of the measurable characteristics.
By including Cal Poly on its list, Forbes also validates U.S. News and World and Report’s declaration of “Best in the West” among public master’s programs, a title the college has earned for the 18th year in a row.
Overall, Cal Poly was rated sixth among the public and private universities in the West, meaning that the undergraduate program also held its weight with the best public master’s program. The College of Engineering moved up one spot to become the second-best public master’s engineering program in the country. The aerospace and civil and environmental engineering programs were also rated second-best among public universities. The undergraduate business program was rated no. 136 out of 363 featured. The liberal arts program was not included on the list because U.S. News rates only Liberal Arts colleges and not programs.
The U.S. News ranking system used the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classification system, which is employed by the Department of Education to determine grant status. The Carnegie system, according to its website, uses a “set of multiple, parallel classifications” including three main questions: “what is taught, who are the students” and “what is the setting.”
Though Interim President Robert Glidden said he was proud of the rankings and acknowledged the validity of them, he also said that he found the classification systems questionable and wanted to know what the ratings “had to do with the quality of education.”
With his experience as the President Emeritus for Ohio University, he was familiar with the U.S. News rating system. Part of the system uses voluntary ratings from other college presidents, using reputation as a benchmark for ranking.
This makes for the “same people on top,” showing why Cal Poly may have been rated “Best in the West” 18 years in a row, Glidden said.
“(It’s) a natural tendency of people, for the most part, to rate highly those they respect,” Glidden said.
Glidden also said that if the ranking systems for both Forbes and U.S. News were more thorough than subjective, Cal Poly would be better than 177 in the nation based upon the university’s commitment to students.
Sauny Dills, a retired Cal Poly professor, additionally found issue with the classification system — namely Forbes’ use of RateMyProfessors.com as a predictor of student satisfaction Dills said that it is a “hallway statistic” that did not “mean anything.”
“The (professor) with the mole on the end of his nose and a grouchy attitude … won’t get a good rating,” Dills said. “One of the ideas behind teaching is not to please students; you are meant to be their teacher.”
Dills said a more accurate predictor of student satisfaction would be a thorough study after graduation.
“You can’t see what teacher is going to be (influential) until you get the job (you went to school for),” Dills said.
Yet, these rankings, according to an article appearing in Forbes Magazine titled “Competition’s Impact on Higher Education,” have affect an on both students and the universities. With more students applying to college and being mindful of their decisions, the “competition” that these kinds of lists entail “keeps institutions on their toes, forces them to think about new ideas, pay attention to quality teaching, measure what they do and benchmark themselves against their peers.”
Rankings also affect success after graduation, according to Marguerite Clark’s article, “University Rankings and Their Impact on Students.” The article notes “[s]tudies in several countries have found a relationship between the perceived status of the degree-granting institution (a characteristic that relates strongly to university rankings) and employment and earnings outcomes for graduates”; however, other studies have found “that while graduates of the highest-ranked institutions tend to do best overall in terms of employment prospects, graduates of some of the lower-ranked universities also do well if they have specialized in an area highly regarded for particular professions.”
Caryn Gibson, a San Luis Obispo High School senior, and her mother, Kim Gibson, are currently searching for the right college and are faced with these ranking lists, including the effects on the colleges and employers.
“The rankings definitely do matter,” Caryn Gibson said. “I would want to go to a school that’s ranked better than one that wasn’t on the lis. In the end though, I’d like to go to the best (school) for my major, but the ranking narrows it down.”
Dills said the rankings provide a useful tool in picking the right school.
“If you want something designed, you go to Berkeley,” Dills said. “If you want something to work, you go to Cal Poly.”