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Importance of rankings should not be overestimated

By Wildcat Opinions Board
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 5, 2000
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Earlier this week, U.S. News and World Report announced its annual rankings of graduate schools in all fields. The University of Arizona's programs in Management Information Systems was ranked fifth, the programs in speech and language pathology, as well as that in audiology, was ranked sixth and the master's program in creative writing was ranked ninth.

Having colleges ranked nationally helps the entire university. These rankings are widely consulted by prospective students and are considered an important part of the prestige of any school. UA has had colleges within it ranked highly for years, and while it is flattering, we should not overestimate the importance of these rankings.

Certainly, having colleges ranked nationally is nice, but we shouldn't become fixated on it. In past years, it has become obvious that many excellent programs go unrecognized on the rankings, and many declining programs remain on the rolls, based on their past strength and reputation. High rankings increase interest in the university as a whole and bring more high-quality students, faculty and funding for all the colleges.

While the rankings are indicators of the quality of the college, they are not substantive enough to warrant too much attention. In past years, administration has made certain to underplay the importance of the rankings, and for good reason. They understand what too many students at the colleges, and many prospective students, do not; that while the rankings are important in that they attract attention to the college, they don't reflect, except in the broadest of senses, the quality of the programs.

In the days since the rankings were announced, the MIS department has seen that they are far from perfect. Though the college is ranked higher than any other department, fifth in the nation, they have not been able to increase their ranking from last year. In the intervening year, however, they have hired more faculty and made their program better in many regards. However, the rankings have not reflected these improvements. This isn't surprising; many of the most important changes that can be made in a program are too small to really be obvious to a wide, national survey.

In prior years when these rankings have been announced, a debate has risen over whether we should increase or decrease funding for the programs listed. Proponents of raising the funding of the programs say that these are the most prestigious programs at the university, and as they have succeeded in using their current funding effectively, should be given more. Those that argue against increasing the budget of these programs say that these programs are obviously already doing well with the money they have, and resources should now be focused on additional colors.

While the investigation of a national news publication is certainly thorough, we cannot trust policy decisions of our university to it. We need to pursue our own investigations, ones that will certainly be more sensitive to changes made within the departments. Good audits of any program can only come from within the university.

After the UA has finished its investigation, funding for the exemplary programs should be considered. Those programs that already have healthy levels of funding, that will continue to grow at their current rates without augmented funding, should be left alone. Those programs that will not be able to grow and improve themselves without augmented funding should be the top priority for increased funding. These rankings are favorable, but we must be certain not to overrate their importance.

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