Yearly anti-USNWR post

Rutgers University comes in tied for 64th in the latest US News & World Report university rankings, a slight uptick from last year's 66th. It had also been ranked 64th in 2009. Are these changes meaningful in any way whatsoever? Not in the slightest. Even the accurate pronouncements are based on aping publicly available data.

The list is determined solely by use of arbitrary criteria that mainly change year by year to create headlines ("oooh, Dartmouth fell to where?") and generate discussion. Any subsequent fluctuations are mainly the result of those changing formulae. Rutgers didn't necessarily get any better over the past calendar year. It's quite easy to game the rankings (see above link), especially when one way to do so is for alumni to donate even a minuscule gift. The metrics just changed. It's possible that more New Jersey students are also opting to stay in state because of the bad economy, but that probably would have a negligible effect. Maybe things will really start blowing up next year when drastic state budget cuts from across the country are taken into account.

IIRC RU's rankings fell by a fair bit in the late 90's when US News suddenly decided to radically change its formula. Not only is that bunk, but the statistical inputs are totally useless to boot. You might as well be citing the Forbes.com rankings based on listings in Who's Who and RateMyProfessor.com ratings. The rankings are a fraud, and US News & World Report is now a gutted shell of a once-proud magazine that solely exists to perpetuate these falsehoods on to the public. Unfortunately, undergraduates and prospective law students tend to take these rankings as gospel, which tends to turn the rankings into self-fulfilling prophecies over time, at least in terms of admissions.

Here's the straight dope about Rutgers: it's a good school, with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Rutgers has a world class faculty, as good as you'll find anywhere with many elite graduate departments. It's also severely starved of needed financial resources, which can have a negative impact in all aspects of the collegiate experience. By no means is RU for everyone; I can definitely understand why some New Jerseyans are eager to go to college far from home, or don't want to get lost at such a big school. Networking is definitely much harder. If you're a dedicated self-starter though, with motivation and clear plans for the future, Rutgers still offers tremendous value in spite of numerous recent increases in the cost of tuition.

The tuition issue goes hand in hand with the other direct consequence of budget cuts. The average SAT score for incoming freshmen at Rutgers peaked in 2005 and has been steadily dropping ever since. That doesn't contradict the Flutie Effect; what's actually happening is easily explained by other data. Undergraduate enrollment at Rutgers New Brunswick has shot up by over 3,000 students in the past four years (hence, all the stories about students living at a hotel in Somerset). The school administration can't raise tuition too close to the breaking point, so instead they loosen admissions and enroll more students that can pay tuition. That also explains the push to offer more non-traditional class offerings, and recruit more students from out of state and abroad.

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