Kent State falls in Forbes’ college rankings, but does it really matter?


A student walks across the “K” at Risman Plaza on campus of Kent State University the evening of September 5, 2018. 

In an email addressed to all members of the Kent State community in September 2017, President Beverly Warren touted the university’s status in the U.S. News and World Report rankings released every year — No. 176 out of 311 universities nationwide.

“Kent State continues its rise among the nation’s best universities,” Warren wrote about the university’s 12-point climb in the rankings.

It’s not clear if Kent State landed in a similar spot this year because some media outlets have yet to release their findings. U.S. News and World Report (USNWR), a dominant voice in college rankings, will release its 2019 findings on Sept. 10.

Warren sent an email Wednesday, though no rankings from other outlets were mentioned. According to Forbes rankings released in mid-August, Kent State ranks low — No. 633 out of 650.

Will Dix, a Forbes contributor and long-time admissions officer and college counselor, said these rankings should always be taken with a huge grain of salt.

“Are they reliable in the sense that if you go to one (of the colleges), you will come out a better person or that you will be guaranteed a job?” Dix said. “No, of course not.”

Dix used to work as a high school English and theater teacher, and he said he can’t “recall any kid coming to me with one of the ranking lists.” Parents were usually more interested, he added.

Students are the X-factor in the selection process, Dix said. While they can look to these lists for statistics and information, rankings really can’t guide a student to success because the process is so individualized.

In an article for Yale, Jeffrey Brenzel, the former dean of undergraduate admissions at the Ivy League university ,said college rankings are usually intended to guide incoming students, but the factors used to rate the schools are often “irrelevant to individual students.”

Forbes relies on alumni salaries, student debt and student experience as the top three criteria for annual rankings.

Compared to other Ohio public universities on the list, Kent State ranked close to Cleveland State and Wright State, and it fell behind the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.

Dave Garcia, the senior associate vice president for strategic enrollment management at Kent State, said via email students often look at three key elements when considering a university: academic major, financial aid and scholarships and the college visit.

A small number of potential students will actually factor national rankings into their considerations, Garcia said.

“For the majority of colleges and universities in the U.S., rankings really do not play a big role in the recruitment process,” Garcia said. “I would say it probably plays a bigger role with Ivy and highly selective colleges and universities.”

USNWR considers factors that differ slightly from Forbes for its rankings. The top two factors are graduation and retention rates, along with undergraduate academic reputation — an assessment of a university from peers. According to an article from Inside Higher Ed, USNWR said it “had made minor adjustments to how some factors were calculated based on its internal review and feedback from colleges” in its 2017 rankings.

In its report last year, Kent State ranked higher than Bowling Green and the University of Akron. Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati held a higher spot than Kent State.

Jeremy Simon, the director of strategic communications at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, said USNWR has a small set of people for whom the rankings matter.

“There’s a much larger pool of student and potential students in this country that are served by the many hundreds, if not thousands, of higher education institutions who provide an outstanding education and experience,” Simon said via an email to KentWired.

USNWR also relies partly on self-reported data from universities. Eight schools that were ranked last year submitted incorrect information. The errors were large enough that the colleges were removed from the list.

Because universities vary in population, resources available for students and values, it can be difficult to compare rankings from these organizations. Ultimately, Dix said, the rankings are more “fun” than they are reliable.

Garcia echoed Dix’s thoughts on how universities arrive at a specific ranking.

“There are arguments on both sides whether rankings are reliable due to the methodology the company uses to establish rankings,” Garcia said. “For instance, some rankings are based on self-reported data that may not be accurately reported or over-inflated. Some rankings are based on variables that have no significant impact in the college decision process.”  

In a ranking that focused primarily on money and finance information, Kent State fell in its standing. Time Money, which looks at education quality, finance and value, ranked the university No. 718 out of 727 schools this year.

Despite the questions surrounding the reliability of these rankings, universities often promote themselves when their ranking increases.

“Any time a college or university receives a good national ranking, it is good to promote that on the website and publications,” Garcia said. “Will it lead to more applications and enrollment? Not necessarily, but it does bring a sense of reassurance that the college has been recognized by outside agencies for its programs.”

Garcia said he hopes rankings won’t be overemphasized in a way that ignores the large majority of actual and potential students.

“Enabling students’ college experience to be more accessible and successful, regardless of institution, is our priority,” he said.

While college rankings may offer some helpful data and information on universities, like the admittance rate, in the end, the rankings hold little value.

Still, they remain popular.

Dix added these rankings — what he calls “the original clickbait” — continue to capture the attention of Americans because it makes them feel better about themselves.

“You know, we are a nation that loves lists,” he said. “I do think there’s something that relieves us, in a way, to see things quantified, even if they’re not truly quantifiable. It’s reassuring when you’re an alum from one of the top schools, and it’s nice to see that. If you’re a parent, lists that have schools your kid is interested in (with) top rates — sometimes people see that as a proxy that your child is doing well when applying for those schools.”

Laina Yost is the enterprise editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Valerie Royzman is the features editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Anna Huntsman contributed to this report.