Colleges Column

April 09, 1997 2 min read

College rankings created by magazines generate a lot of hype, but who actually pays attention to them? A University of California, Los Angeles, study says the students who do are more likely to be Asian-American, from high-income families, and from families with college-educated parents.

Pat McDonough, an associate professor at UCLA’s graduate school of education and information studies, studied responses of 222,000 incoming freshmen from four-year colleges who participated in the 1995 freshman survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

Her study found that only 11 percent of students rated such rankings as “very important” in their college choices, while 60 percent found them to be “not at all” important.

The students who used rankings, the survey found, were more likely to apply to a number of colleges, live away from home during college, and attend private institutions.

Ms. McDonough said the rankings have flourished while college admissions officers work harder on marketing and recruiting, and as high school counselors spend more time on crisis management and less time on college counseling.

“Rankings is just another piece of the for-profit sector coming in and saying, ‘We’ll do the job,’” she said.

Ms. McDonough added that first-generation college students need more counseling and more information than the rankings provide.

The country’s state and land-grant universities need to become student-centered learning communities that support all kinds of learners, a panel said last week.

The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities offered its views in a report, “Returning to Our Roots: The Student Experience.” Composed of current and former public university presidents, the commission was created by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Washington-based National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges to analyze reforms needed for public universities.

The report lays out a series of proposed actions. They include revitalizing partnerships with K-12 schools, reinforcing a commitment to undergraduate instruction, strengthening the link between education and career, and creating more hands-on learning opportunities such as undergraduate research.

The report is available on-line at To receive a printed copy, e-mail or fax (202) 296-6456.