Do College and University Rankings Inhibit the Drive for Racial Diversity?

A study led by two researchers in the School of Public Affairs & Administration at the University of Kansas finds that college ranking systems can have an impact in inhibiting diversity at the nation’s top colleges and universities.

The authors say that the rankings tend to produce conformity, with lower-ranked educational institutions trying to emulate their higher-ranked peers. Factors contributing to rankings such as SAT scores, alumni giving rate, graduation rates, financial resources etc. tend to reinforce the status quo. The authors found that over the past 50 years, there has been very little movement into the top 50 colleges and universities with only minor shuffling among the top positions.

George Frederickson, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Kansas and a co-author of the study, said that “pressures to conform and to ‘look like’ other universities are powerful, and ranking only increase those pressures.”

Co-author Jacob Fowles, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, added that “what rankings really are doing is continuously reinforcing privilege. The rankings themselves have become a powerful social force that largely preserves and enhances the visibility of that historical prominence.”

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