As ranking climbs, problems still stand

Alejandro Rivera | Daily Trojan

Alejandro Rivera | Daily Trojan

A simple scroll through any Trojan’s Facebook feed last week revealed the big news, shared and reshared countless times: USC topped UCLA in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges Rankings. USC ranked 23rd this year, breaking its previous tie with UCLA, which came in at 24th.

This ranking definitely gives us exciting new bragging rights over the Bruins, but it is still important for us to pause and take note that there is room for improvement, especially in the realm of affordability and overall value.  This is blatantly obvious in rankings systems that place a strong weight on financial factors, such as MONEY’s Best Colleges list.

It is important for students to balance celebrating our U.S. News & World Report ranking with recognizing that our school still has flaws, and that it is up to students to hold the school accountable. If the student body places too much emphasis on these rankings, it runs the risk of becoming complacent in demanding change from the University.

While the U.S. News & World Report measures overall prestige, obviously important for institutions’ abilities to attract new students, MONEY’s Best Colleges rankings measures things that may be more important to individual students themselves.

The magazine’s methodology is broken down into three components, each with a third of overall weighting: quality of education, affordability, and outcomes. Quality of education is measured by categories such as six-year graduation rate, peer and instructor quality, and value-added graduation rate, which measures the difference between a school’s actual graduation rate and its expected rate based on the profile of its student body.

Affordability, often a hot topic on USC’s campus, is measured by the price of a degree once average aid, average student debt, student loan repayment and affordability for low-income students are applied. Measuring outcomes includes graduates’ earnings (adjusted by majors), 10-year earnings and career services.

On the other hand, U.S. News & World Report’s methodology is much broader, and includes things that may have less importance to the individual student. It is largely reputation-based, with 22 percent of the weight placed on undergraduate academic reputation — as determined by presidents, provosts and deans of institutions, not by students themselves. Other indicators include graduation rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, and alumni giving rate, but nothing about financial aid or general affordability.

  In stark contrast to its comfortable top 25 ranking on U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, USC comes in at an embarrassing number 155 on MONEY’s list, which ranks schools based on whether they provide “a great education, at an affordable price, that prepares students for rewarding careers.” UCLA ranks number 20 on the list. In fact, eight out of the nine University of California undergraduate campuses are listed ahead of USC.

Of course, some may say that it is a given for University of California schools to beat USC in a value ranking, since they’re public schools and therefore can offer lower tuition. However, “best value” is not synonymous with “lowest tuition,” as shown by the fact that Princeton and Harvard ranked first and third respectively, despite the fact that both schools’ tuitions also top $60,000.

However, one big separation between high-ranking schools and USC is the difference between sticker price and estimated price with average financial aid. Princeton’s tuition is $61,300, but when average aid is applied, the price is approximately one-third of that, at $20,600. Harvard’s steep $64,800 sticker price drops to $16,500 with average aid. As a public school, UCLA’s sticker price of $34,300 is close to USC’s post-aid amount, and this sticker price drops to around $13,000 once average aid is applied.

Of course, we’re all aware that our school is expensive. Any Trojan will tell you that mentioning USC is often accompanied by a comment about the school’s sky-high tuition, or mentioning of the moniker “University of Spoiled Children.” It would be one thing if we could respond to those comments with, “Yes, but it’s worth the money.” MONEY’s college rankings prove that there’s room for USC to add value to its high tuition, which has been accompanied by lacking transparency. These rankings suggest that there are 154 schools out there who provide their students with more value, and the majority charge less in tuition.

So in the spirit of cross-town rivalry, celebrate the rankings victory over UCLA. But remember, they’re beating us in other rankings, and MONEY’s list suggests that their students are getting more bang for their buck. With near-annual tuition raises and a sticker price of over $67,000, we should demand the same. U.S. News & World Report provides a reason to rejoice, but MONEY gives us a clear list of things we can improve upon.