The NFL is BIG business.  In fact, Sunday night’s Super Bowl was the most watched (as in highest rated) television show in U.S. history. More than 110 million people in the U.S. alone watched the New England Patriots’ stunning last minute victory over the Seatle Seahawks.  That’s the largest recorded number of television viewers ever, and it will translate into enormous revenue for the networks, their advertisers and the league itself. And thus as hard as it is to swallow, not only will the $4.5 million per 30 seconds spent for 70 spots seem like a relative bargain to advertisers, the scandal of Deflate-Gate (in which the winning team has been accused of violating rules by using under-inflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage) will seem more than ‘worth it’, regardless of the penalty.

I bring this up, not because I’m some Patriot-hater (starved Dolfan lifer, maybe, but not a hater)… No, I bring this up because it helps me llustrate this point.  In big business, sometimes exaggerations, stretching of professional norms, or technically legal, but just barely so, practices are routinely employed to gain a competitive advantage.

Which brings me to the business of higher education… which like American football, is BIG business.  And there’s no bigger metric in the business of college in the U.S. than the college rankings.  Almost all American colleges and universities report annually on various institutional statistics about their incoming students. This data — which includes mean SAT/ACT scores, high school class ranks, GPAs, and the like — is then utilized by third parties (like Newsweek, Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s, Forbes, and US News & World Report) to rank colleges.

The US News & World Report Best Colleges is by far the most widely circulated and influential of the bunch.  It ranks colleges according to “16 different indicators of academic excellence”, most of which are based on this aforementioned self-reported data from the colleges about their incoming freshman class.  These rankings have tremendous (and, in my view,  disproportionate) influence on a college’s perceived prestige, pricing and popularity,  fundraising and even — now here’s the real kicker — on its standing in the financial markets.  Yes, the higher the ranking, the easier a school’s access might be to capital. 

And so, despite the fact that these rankings tell us (the consumer) very little about the actual quality of the education AT these institutions, they are EXTREMELY important to  a colleges’ administrators, board members, donors, boosters and other fiduciaries.  So important that it has led some colleges to ‘misreport’ or manipulate certain admissions-related data (or, as the less cynical might say: look for ‘innovative ways’) to gain a competitive advantage and improve their standing in the rankings.

Just yesterday, for example, an audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers revealed that the University of Missouri at Kansas City had provided misleading information to the Princeton Review about its business school.  Under pressure from donors to improve its ranking, business school officials apparently  ‘fibbed’ about the number of clubs affiliated with their program.

And a couple of years ago, Emory University (which I really like as an institution) got caught inflating their numbers by reporting test scores and class ranks of the students they had admitted  instead of the scores/ranks of those students who had actually enrolled.

Claremont McKenna College (another school that delivers a quality education) was also found to have been been misreporting data about admissions.

I suspected then (and maintain today) that there are probably quite a few other schools that if audited similarly, would likely be cited for similar indiscretions.  And not unlike the pudits who pontificated about the impact of deflate-gate on the Patriots,  the rankings authorities say that the effect of these indiscretions on the schools actual rankings is likely to be very small, ‘negligible’, in fact.

So, I get the importance of college rankings.. if you’re a bond-holder of a particular college… but I caution parents (and students) from putting too much emphasis on a college’s ranking when making an educational decision….

Especially when in reality the ‘rankings’  really tell us more about how the students there performed in high school.  They tell us very little about the quality of the education that they actually deliver to their undergrads. The point here is that when the 2015 rankings get released, you should take the rankings with a grain of salt. I’m not suggesting that you ignore them, but rather use them as a single, small indicator and not as the sole reason to choose a school.

Choosing a college with your child is arguably the second largest investment that you’ll ever make (right behind purchasing a home and well ahead of purchasing a car).  The ‘purchasing’ process should be a thoughtful one, planned, well-researched and in line with your student’s capabilities and aspirations… and your budget.  Are the schools that your child is considering the right fit for your family, starting with the academic program? How will they nurture your student’s intellectual growth, and how will they prepare your student for life after college?  Equally important,  can they  meet your family’s financial needs? Will they?   This is a decision that you’ve been considering for more or less a dozen years, and it’s one that can impact not just the next four years of your child’s life, but potentially the next 40.  It’s worth more than a Google of the latest rankings.

I’m holding two workshops in the next couple of weeks. Both are free of charge and open to the public.  During the class, I’lll cover the whole college process (from Admissions to Funding).  I’ll explain just how the college business works today, and more importantly, how you can make it work for you to help your students find, get into and pay (discounted prices) for college.  My next class is on the 10th in Pembroke Pines – and the second one is in South Miami on the 25th.  If you are the parent of a 9th, 10th or 11th  grader, now is the time to pay close attention… the earlier you start, the more options your student will have.  You can Click here to learn more or to reserve your seat and materials.

Best,

Peter

p.s. Pass share this post with a friend, neighbor, family member or colleague who has high school children. They’ll thank you for it!

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