David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
I Wish This Was An April Fool's Day Joke: Apparently the Fools Are Doing Quite Well

April 1, 2014

The website Niche is apparently famous for ranking schools in any number of ways.  Recently that reputable website Distractify used Niche to post a story on the "20 Smartest Public Colleges in the U.S", replete with illustrative quotes from student reviews about the institutions that apparently verify the college's smart-ness.

Where does one even begin ranting about the ranking?  I suppose I could start with a previous rant: Do Our Assets Look Too Big?  Good!  There I openly lamented the methodology of a fairly respectable Forbes' magazine. What do I do with the relative unknown that is the Niche College Prowler? When I look at their methodology associated with "academics' grades," they cite student surveys, open-ended student reviews, and statistical data.  The statistical data is explained as "relevant data . . . used from the US Department of Education and as self-reported on school websites and in the Common Data Set. These values were also weighted based on importance to that topic's grade. If any of the criteria for a school were unavailable, a default value was assigned that neither increased nor decreased the school's ranking."

Pretty sketchy description and thus not the most comforting starting point for a research study.  The Distractify article that uses their rankings of the "20 Smartest Public Colleges in the U.S" cites "retention rate, graduation rate, average SAT scores, acceptance rate, as well as other factors" making up the rankings.  Yet, every one of those data points could be argued, and usually are argued these days, as being relatively flawed.  Persistence is a quality to be admired, and thus relevant for retention and graduation rates, but is not isolated merely with the smart.

So, to pick on the methodology is frankly boring and redundant. Instead, let's just look at Distractify list, and the illustrative student reviews, and see why various schools should be proud.

  • To all institutions of higher education across the country, let's be proud that inanimate objects -- colleges, public or private -- can be imbued with intelligence.  Unless the author means that these are the best-looking colleges across the country ("that is a smart-looking building.  Your buttress doesn't look big at all in that."), Distractify is living up to its meaning--distracting us from literacy.  (Perhaps this moniker came directly from Niche, but I don't see it upon quick perusal. I have no interest in exploring more just to distinguish which is the site that cares less about language.)
  • To University of Florida (#1), be proud of your student's expansive knowledge of the curriculum of so many other public colleges: "I consider the overall curriculum and studying opportunities available within this institution are some of the best compared to other public universities."  Perhaps the student has transferred to U of Florida after enrolling at 5 or 6 other institutions and can make this claim.  Not sure I would count that toward the university's "acceptance rate," though.
  • To SUNY, Geneseo (#2), be proud of the three grammar errors in your smart's student comment: "the workload is also tough but its nothing you cant handle as long as you keep on top of your work you will succeed."  Two missing apostrophes within a run-on sentence!  That's not an easy feat.
  • To California Polytechnic State (#4), be proud of how creative your smart student is:  "It's awesome. Having to take GE's sucks, but it always does. Major courses are super awesome."  2 "awesomes" surrounding a "sucks."  That's worthy of a Miley Cyrus concert review.
  • To University of Maryland, Baltimore County (#11), be proud of how your classes sound like everyone else's: "The professors seem to heavily encourage discussion but they also assign a lot of work. When they assign all this work they seem to forget that we have other classes to think about as well. That being said the workload is manageable if you plan ahead and get ahead on class assignments (just look at the syllabus)."  Wow, just look at the syllabus.  They are producing Albert Einsteins at U of M, BC.
  • To University of North Carolina (#13), be proud that your student doesn't even read your own newspapers when he or she said: "Simply put, UNC is all about academics. Students who excel here don't try to take shortcuts. The school itself boasts some of the best facilities in the country as well as the academic talent to match it."  Who needs to read the local newspapers to find out that the school's Chancellor openly laments lack of academic rigor in classes for student-athletes?
  • To The University of Michigan (#15), be proud that the student quote about academic excellence is accompanied by a picture of your football team.  We all know what really gives Michigan its reputation.
  • To University of Virginia (#17), be proud your student finds plenty of time to goof around, somehow proving that it is one of the country's smartest colleges: "As an Environmental Science and Economics double major my work load SHOULD be pretty big, but it isn't at all! I don't have to spend excessive time on my school work and so have plenty of time to play games with friends, relax and get involved in clubs." 
  • To University of California, Berkeley (#19), where do I begin to tell you where to be proud?  I am not really sure what your student is saying about your faculty: "Professors are great very diverse and lovely to see how they vary from colleges." This sentence wouldn't get past the tutor at your local writing center.

I guess The Beach Boys were right when they sang about being "true to your school."  I can only imagine how the faculty at these institutions cringed at these quotes.