The ladder of fame
ON AUGUST 18th US News & World Report released its 2007 rankings of America’s top colleges. The survey began in 1983 as a simple straw poll, when the magazine asked 662 college presidents to identify the country’s best places of learning. It has since mutated into an annual ordeal for reputable universities. A strong showing in the rankings spurs student interest and alumni giving; a slip has grave consequences for public relations.
University administrators deeply dislike the survey. Many reject the idea that schools can be stacked up against one another in any meaningful way. And the survey’s methodology is suspect. The rankings are still based partly on peer evaluations. They compare rates of alumni giving, which has little to do with the transmission of knowledge. Besides, the magazine’s data are supplied by the schools and uncorroborated.
But whether the rankings are fair is beside the point, because they are wildly influential. In the 1983 survey barely half of the presidents approached bothered to respond. Today, only a handful dare abstain.
Most, in fact, do more than simply fill out the survey. Competition between colleges for top students is increasing, partly because of the very popularity of rankings. Colin Diver, the president of Reed College in Oregon, considers that “rankings create powerful incentives to manipulate data and distort institutional behaviour.” A school may game the system by soliciting applications from students who stand no chance of admission, or by leaning on alumni to arrange jobs for graduates. Reed is one of the few prominent colleges that dares to disdain to take part in the US News survey.
In some ways, the scramble to attract applicants has helped students. Universities such as Duke in North Carolina and Rice in Houston are devoting more money to scholarships. That seems a reasonable response to the challenge of the rankings, as the National Centre for Education Statistics reckons that roughly two-thirds of undergraduates rely on financial aid.
Other colleges, though, are trying to drum up excitement by offering perks that would have been unheard of a generation ago. Students at the University of California, Los Angeles now appreciate weekly maid service in the dorms. “The elevators”, enthused a respondent to an online survey, “smell lemon fresh.” Students at Pennsylvania State University enjoy free access to Napster, the music-sharing service. Multi-million dollar gyms have become so common that they are unremarkable.
University officials, defending this strategy, often imply that they are only responding to student demand. Discouraging words for those who believe that a college’s job is to educate, not coddle.
[真题例句]Lots of Americans bought that nonsense, and over three decades, some 10 million smokers went to early graves (n.).[2005年阅读2]