U.S. News and World Report ranked Cornell 15th for the third year in a row in its list of the nation’s best universities, which was released Tuesday.
The magazine observed that there are more than 500 student organizations on campus and noted the University’s “thriving Greek life” — a system that has come under increasing scrutiny this year.
The announcement is a setback to Cornell’s administration, which identified in its 2010-15 Strategic Plan the “overarching aspiration” to make Cornell “widely recognized as a top-ten research university in the world.”
“If we’re not perceived to be in the top-ten, then the quality of students will decline, the quality of faculty will decline, and the resources [going] to the institution will decline,” Provost Kent Fuchs told The Sun in October 2010.
However, Vice Provost Barbara Knuth said that despite being ranked 15th for the third straight year, applicant pools have continued to be strong. The last application cycle drew 36,387 applications — the most in Cornell’s history.
“I anticipate continued strong interest among applicants, across a diversity of majors and social and economic backgrounds,” she said in an email.
The college rankings have been a contentious subject in recent years, with many critics contending that they do little to reflect an institution’s true merit.
“The U.S. News algorithm relies instead on proxies for quality — and the proxies for educational quality turn out to be flimsy at best,” Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote in The New Yorker. “[The rankings] enshrine very particular ideologies, and, at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of those factors.”
Partly in response to the concerns voiced by Gladwell, universities nationwide were less likely to participate in the ranking process this year, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The rankings are based on undergraduate academic reputation, retention, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rate, according to U.S. News.
After the rankings were released Tuesday, students expressed differing views on their importance.
“In principle, the ranking is important because no matter how good a university really is, how it is perceived by other people is important,” Jeremy Owen ’15 said. “But, whether [Cornell] is 15th or 10th does not make a huge difference to me,”
Ari Hyman ’14 agreed with Gladwell, saying that by ranking the University overall, the rankings overlooked some of Cornell’s best programs.
“I think [the ranking] is trying to oversimplify something that shouldn’t be. The reason I internally transferred into the Hotel School was because I was looking at a strong program within an institution,” Hyman said.
For transfer student Barry Altmark ’14, while the University rankings did not play a role in his decision process, the Hotel School’s high reputation did.
“University rankings had nothing to do with it,” Altmark said. “I think they are overrated. I never looked at any rankings. I’m not going to decide where I’m going based on rankings.”
In addition to the general rankings, Cornell moved up one space to second, in engineering science/engineering physics programs at schools that grant doctorate degrees. It also moved from fifth to fourth among biological/agricultural engineering programs and tenth to ninth for best undergraduate business programs.