So do we spend too much time worrying about college rankings? Or not nearly enough?
Not so long ago, college administrators could respond that they seemed to be doing just fine. American universities have long attracted talented students from other continents, and this country’s population was once the most educated in the world.
But it isn’t anymore. Today the United States ranks ninth among industrialized nations in higher-education attainment, in large measure because only 53 percent of students who enter college emerge with a bachelor’s degree, according to census data. And those who don’t finish pay an enormous price. For every $1 earned by a college graduate, someone leaving before obtaining a four-year degree earns only 67 cents.
Last week, in a report to the Education Department, a group called the Commission on the Future of Higher Education bluntly pointed out the economic dangers of these trends. “What we have learned over the last year makes clear that American higher education has become what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk-averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive,” it said. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, higher education must change from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance.”