What Does the U.S. News Report Even Mean?


One of our staff was sitting in class a few weeks ago when the professor said, “our lives are ruled by a list: the U.S. News Report.” Macalester is currently ranked 26th, along with Colorado College and Mount Holyoke. Honestly, though, we don’t know what that means. The criteria used for the U.S. News Report rankings are somewhat mysterious, and it’s not always immediately clear why one college receives a higher ranking than another. The information given in the published rankings, though, would indicate that endowment size is a significant factor, which is questionable at best.

More importantly, we don’t care how Macalester ranks. As students, we judge Macalester based on our educational experience and the strength of the community, and prospective students judge the school based on whether it’s a place they would like to live and study for four years. As long as we get an excellent education and a community we enjoy being a part of for four years, we are happy.

It certainly does seem as though the college’s powers-that-be spend a good amount of time worrying about the number next to Macalester’s name in a single publication’s annual rankings of colleges and universities. The Leonard Center and Markim Hall, for example, go well beyond providing excellent and accessible facilities for students. They’re marketing tools, designed to up our profile.

Sure, it’s possible that a higher rank would mean more money (maybe), and more money would mean a better Macalester. But is that true? Maybe the U.S. News Report ranking will give us more applicants so that we can select the best students?

Unlikely. Macalester students tend to be a self-selective bunch: smart, thoughtful students but, more importantly, students who are engaged and passionate. We aren’t a community that needs to prove ourselves to anyone else. We don’t join orgs because it boosts our résumés, we want to be there. We don’t want students that are attracted to the school because we are the number one liberal arts institution in the country. We want students who are attracted to our values. We want students who want to talk about their classes after they leave. We learn as much from each other outside of class as we do in class.

Do we really even want the kinds of students that a higher ranking would attract? The higher the rank, the more interested the students tend to be in prestige and competition. What makes Macalester worthwhile is that we have highly intelligent students taking the most academically rigorous courses because they care about the material, not how much money the material can make them in the future.

And let’s be honest: we already have the best of the best. The biggest difference between a Mac student and a Harvard student is not IQ or SAT score – it’s values. We all know people who turned down Ivy League schools because Macalester was just a better fit.

We are also a supportive group of students. When we say we aren’t competitive, we mean it. Students work together on papers to develop ideas, hand around books, give people they don’t know well notes for tests and as a result, we all learn more. Why foster an atmosphere that encourages a competitive spirit?

Maybe it’s for our egos?

Thanks but no thanks. Go to the CDC and there you will find a plethora of Macalester alumni who are working abroad in nonprofits, in immigration centers, in research labs, we could go on. We’re pretty proud of what Macalester students do when they leave this campus already. We don’t need the U.S. News Report to make ourselves feel better.