President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, questioned the importance of arbitrary college rankings in an op-ed published in Inside Higher Ed January 8. Instead, President Stanley argued, high school students and their families should consider opportunities for social mobility when applying to college.
“It is at the very heart of American values that if you work hard and get a good education, you can achieve more than what your parents or their parents dreamed,” he wrote.
“While social mobility is one of the most transformative purposes of a college education, traditional rankings don’t tell us much about it,” he added.
President Stanley cited a recent study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, titled “Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility,” which used de-identified IRS data to compare the income of college graduates to their parents’ income around the same age. This helped to identify schools that excelled at boosting graduates from the lowest quintiles of family income into the highest.
The study ranked Stony Brook among the top five universities in the country for bottom-to-top quintile mobility.
“If websites, guidebooks and media surveys that publish and promote college rankings really want to do justice for students and parents who use these tools to evaluate which school can best help access success, they should focus more on social mobility and less on peer sentiment, alumni fund-raising or anecdotal opinion surveys,” he wrote. “Real-world outcomes should be our most important benchmark.”