COLLEGE OFFICIALS fret endlessly about their rankings in national magazines. Yet these inflexible rating systems, built on a subjectively chosen set of statistical indicators, rarely capture the totality of a campus. Sometimes, they completely misjudge an institution.
That’s what happened to Northeastern University, which ranks 534th on the recent Forbes list of the nation’s top 650 US colleges. A key factor in the magazine’s ranking system is whether students graduate in four years. That’s rare at Northeastern, not because students are flunking classes or shut out of required courses. As anyone with a passing acquaintance with Northeastern knows, it’s essentially a five-year institution that provides students with a few semesters of valuable, full-time work experience in their fields before they graduate. In effect, Northeastern is being punished for its distinctive approach.
All magazine rankings are quirky. Forbes also looks at the number of alumni listed in “Who’s Who in America.’’ Another publication might put greater weight on how many alumni become donors, while another might focus on campus food. It’s foolhardy to become discouraged by a low ranking or giddy about high one.
Northeastern may be especially touchy about the low ranking because it has worked for more than a decade at transforming its campus from a come-one, come-all commuter school into a highly selective institution. It needn’t worry. A truer expression of faith can be found in the more than 40,000 applications for the 2,800 seats in the incoming freshman class.