In about three weeks, thousands of new freshmen will be starting their collegiate careers at UC Berkeley, a university they thought was the No. 2 public college in the United States. But after UC Berkeley inaccurately reported data regarding alumni donations to U.S. News & World Report, these freshmen are instead starting college on a campus that is unranked.
The categories used to determine university rankings are not comprehensive — for example, alumni donations make up 5 percent of the data that influences rankings because this statistic supposedly represents student satisfaction and postgraduate engagement. But there is no explicit category measuring student happiness or mental well-being. U.S. News rankings are also influenced by factors such as class size and financial resources, but these categories don’t seem to acknowledge the limitations of state funding for public universities.
UC Berkeley’s ranking in U.S. News, or lack thereof, does not mean the university has nothing to offer. UC Berkeley still has a Rolodex of world-class professors and Nobel laureates teaching on its campus. It remains a top transfer university in the country and a highly esteemed public university. Our unranked status does not detract from this.
But while UC Berkeley students have a lot to be proud of, it is still incredibly disheartening for the campus to be removed from the nation’s list of top colleges. And when U.S. News’ past rankings of UC Berkeley are taken into account, it seems like there are larger problems at play on campus that go beyond the inaccurate reporting of data.
Over the past three years, UC Berkeley’s public university status in the U.S. News rankings has slowly declined. Where 2017 saw campus celebrate its 19th year in a row as the sole No. 1 public university in the nation, 2018’s report had campus tied with UCLA for No. 1. And 2019’s report ranked UC Berkeley as the second-best public university. The fact that UC Berkeley is now unranked reflects that the campus has some systemic issues it needs to address.
When UC Berkeley lost its status as the No. 1 public university to UCLA, campus spokesperson Michael Dirda responded by saying the university would not make decisions “solely to do better in rankings.” But UC Berkeley administrators should not dismiss the significance of rankings and should instead acknowledge their impact.
Though ranking systems can be flawed, a university’s ranking is important. This ranking represents how UC Berkeley will be seen by students applying to college, employers who might hire UC Berkeley students and graduate schools looking at applications from campus alumni.
Rankings may seem superficial, but the effect they have on the UC Berkeley community is not.