Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Forbes College Rankings, Bad Methodology

Forbes magazine has introduced a new college ranking. They start with a good idea, but it is extremely poorly executed.

“Choosing a four-year undergraduate college is one of the biggest decisions a typical American family can make. And for too many years, information about the quality of American higher education has been monopolized by one publication, U.S. News & World Report.”
The US News and World Report’s methodology is far from perfect and I agree competition is good. So how does Forbes improve on US News method for selecting the best place to go to school:

“To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP (mostly college students themselves) gathered data from a variety of sources. They based 25% of the rankings on 7 million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site Another 25% depends on how many of the school's alumni, adjusted for enrollment, are listed among the notable people in Who's Who in America.”

Let’s start with . This website suffers from severe selection bias. For example the Forbes study author Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, has really great teaching evaluation on, but on average only 3 students a year have filled out a review of Prof. Vedder. I wonder how schools differ in their use of rate my professor, but with only 3 evaluations per year its hard to believe ratemyprofessor provides an accurate picture.

The bigger issue is the next 25%, which uses Who’s Who in America. In 1999 Forbes published an article by Tucker Carlson which refers to Who’s Who, as the Hall of Lame. The article details the problems with Who’s Who, which has basically become a purchased prestige. Similarly Steve Levitt, yesterday at Freakonomics blogged about Who’s Who, citing a study that found ½ of military medals listed in biographies on Who’s Who were made up.

Normally, I do not criticize other works too much in this space, but Forbes ranking have the potential to compete with US News, and this point I do not think they should.

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