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Ranking Colleges

By       Message Robert B. Reich       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Robert Reich Blog

From flickr.com/photos/12836528@N00/2734428320/: Alma Mater, my nourishing mother
Alma Mater, my nourishing mother
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After heavy lobbying from some of the nation's most elite institutions of higher education, the President has just abandoned his effort to rank the nation's 7,000 colleges and universities.

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So, with college application season almost upon us, where should aspiring college students and their parents look for advice?

In my view, not U.S. News and World Report's annual college guide (out last week).

It's analogous to a restaurant guide that gives top ratings to the most expensive establishments that are backed and frequented by the wealthiest gourmands -- and much lower rankings to restaurants with the best food at lower prices that attract the widest range of diners.

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Without fail, U.S. News puts at the top of its list America's most exclusive and expensive private universities that admit low numbers and small percentages of students from poor families.

These elite institutions also train a disproportionately large share of the nation's investment bankers, corporate chieftains, corporate lawyers, and management consultants.

Around 70 percent of Harvard's senior class routinely submits resumes to Wall Street and corporate consulting firms, for example. Close to 36 percent of Princeton's 2010 graduating class went into finance, down from 46 percent before the financial crisis.

And so it goes, through the Ivy League and other elite private institutions.

Meanwhile, U.S. News relegates to lower rankings public universities that admit most of the young Americans from poor families who attend college, and which graduate far larger percentages of teachers, social workers, legal aide attorneys, community organizers, and public servants than do the private elite colleges.

U.S. News claims its rankings are neutral. Baloney.

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They're based on such "neutral" criteria as how selective a college is in its admissions, how much its alumni donate, how much money and other resources its faculty receive, and how much it spends per student.

Colleges especially favored by America's wealthy are bound to excel on these criteria. The elite pour money into them because these institutions have educated them and, they hope, will educate their offspring.

A family name engraved in marble on such a campus confers unparalleled prestige.

And because these institutions have educated such a high proportion of America's wealthy elite, that elite looks with particular favor on graduates of these institutions in making hiring decisions.

Which helps explain their high and increasing selectivity. As the income and wealth of America's elite has soared over recent decades, the financial benefits of being anointed as a graduate of such an institutions have soared in tandem.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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