September 20, 2020

KEMPFF | About the Latest U.S. News College Rankings

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Question: Does Cornell like to lose?  Take, for instance, those three hockey games I made it to last year using my “season” pass. We seemed ready to win then. Or we can talk about the top hospitality program in the nation sitting right on campus that I may or may not attend. We seem ready to win there.

So why can’t we win in the U.S News National University Rankings? This year, The Sun reported that Cornell slid to number 18 in national university rankings. From a sixth place ranking in 1999, we have arrived at our lowest position yet.

Rankings instantly make the skin of people smarter than me itch. They’ll begin to tell you about the ridiculousness of college rankings, how skewed the U.S News ranking system is or how we performed better in more relevant and reputable rankings. And all of those things are probably true.

Yet, logic does not apply when it comes to rankings. It’s hard to shake the feeling of being ranked at the bottom once again. Part of the problem stems from every Cornellian’s inherent desire to compete; exclusivity lives in those 1 a.m. business frat case studies and those infamous Greek rush events.

Another part of the anger comes from being the endless bunt of Ivy League jokes, fitting in as an ugly duckling in the ancient eight. No matter how we laugh it off, it’s never funny to be told there is only one Ivy League in New York State.

The ranking criteria is unscientific and frequently shifts. Still, the ranking still factors into the nation’s psyche. When you say “college rankings,” no one thinks you’re talking about the Wall Street Journal one (we’re 9th in that, if you were curious).

What does it mean to be 18? On the surface, nothing. The cocktail lounge is still packed, Risley still has the best food on North campus and hotelies will still be wearing suits on Friday. However, the repercussions from the rankings are felt everywhere. The rankings are read religiously by people around the country and the world. It doesn’t matter if you are the parents of Harvard Ph.D.’s or someone with little collegiate background. U.S News provides a tempting elitist validation.

At some point, however, ignoring the rankings will hurt Cornell. While other schools work to improve their ranking, Cornell ignores it while pursuing better goals. That mindset will hurt the University, even though the administration is doing the right thing (Martha, please don’t send us home).

Decisions like expanding the class size continue to hurt our ranking. Cornell already struggles with some disadvantages, including a remote setting and a much larger student body than other Ivy League schools. Expanding the class size will cause the University to have to take on a greater financial strain, stretching it’s comparably small endowment to take in even more students.

Although admission numbers are no longer a part of the equation for ranking, financial resources are a major component. Expanding the size will put nothing but undue pressure on a university that has been in the red for the last three years, expanding an even larger loss this year. This straining of the resources may mean that Cornell will continue to lose in the ranking.

This could be a compounding effect, steering highly rated applicants away from the University in favor of more highly ranked colleges. Test scores are one of the metrics that U.S News uses to evaluate applicants, and this may have a snowball effect of drawing top talent away from the University.

Although a doomsday may not be on our doorstep, it’s important to take stock of where we are. I’m confident that Cornell is sick of losing — and winning is something we know how to do. It’s time for the University to prioritize the factors that go into U.S news ranking.

Competition is in a Cornellian’s blood — it’s how most of us got here. We know what struggle is; just ask someone what the social scene is like if you are not from Westchester. It’s time that we put some of this competitive edge to work and try to game the system.

“Any Person, Any Study” doesn’t mention the U.S News rankings. But if we want to remain a top tier, selective, research university, Cornell needs to start playing the game that everyone else plays. It may seem counterintuitive to Cornell’s mission, but I believe that we can do it effectively. We can take our mission hand in hand with protecting our image — we’re smart enough to figure that out.

Brendan Kempff is a sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at bpk43@cornell.edu. Slope Side runs every other Monday this semester.