More College Ranking Brouhaha

Just when we thought it was safe to go back into the higher education waters.  Last week, U.S. News & World Report released its annual college rankings, suffering the growing criticism around methodology and the swelling group of four-year institutions choosing not to submit their data for review.  Still, the top 25 remain strong (with Eduflack’s alma mater still one of the top public universities — Wahoowah!).

This week, Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed unveils a new rankings controversy — the ranking of our nation’s top community colleges. 

Working with data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, Washington Monthly has assembled a list of America’s Best Community Colleges, published under a subhead banner — “Why they’re better than some of the ‘best’ four-year universities.”

CCSSE is quick to point out that its survey was not intended to serve as the ruler for the measurement of two-year colleges.  Regardless, Washington Monthly has taken the available data, mixed it with graduation rates, and provided a vehicle to make educated choices, compare institutions, and help students better understand where their education dollars are going.

Does it matter?  Of course it does.  At no time in our nation’s history has our network of community colleges played such an important role in our education continuum.  Community colleges and technical schools are now key in providing students the skills and knowledge they to perform in the 21st century economy.  The pipeline between two- and four-year institutions is growing larger and stronger every year.  And community colleges are finding the demands for education growing, as they deal with everything from an increased immigrant pool to workforce retraining and mid-career changers.

More importantly, though, Washington Monthly placed two-year colleges on relatively equal footing with four-years, an action that educators have struggled with for decades.  The publication measured community colleges through categories such as enrollment, tuition rates, student-faculty interaction and graduation rates.  It appears Education Sector assisted Washington Monthly with the study.

Why is it all so important?  One may be able to quibble with the methodology or question some of the rankings, but this community college list sends some powerful messages. 
* Quality and impact are key factors in choosing a school, whether it be two year or four year.
* There is a growing demand for data on our educational institutions.
* Community colleges are now one of the successful paths high school graduates can take to a rewarding career.

Community colleges should look at Washington Monthly’s rankings with pride.  We rank when demand outweighs supply.  We rank when we seek high quality and don’t want to settle.  We rank when we want to know we’re making the right choices.  We rank when we see value.  This is a sign we are now starting to value the role of the community college in the K-20 education continuum.

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