News Flash, Pomona: We’re #1—And That’s a Good Thing

Pomona College was ranked #1 in Forbes magazine’s 2015 Best Colleges List, a fact that the college had proudly stated on its recently-renovated website since the ranking came out this past July. Earlier today, however, Pomona removed its Forbes ranking from the school’s official website in response to a petition that made the rounds on Facebook starting yesterday. The petition, signed by 58 of Pomona’s approximately 1,600 students, expressed concerns about the “harmful effects of college rankings” on students applying to colleges.

The statement reads, “Pressure to attend highly ranked schools can result in stress, anxiety, and unhealthy competition among students at a time when we are most in need of support, trust, and objective information.”

There are several problems with this rhetoric. First of all, most students applying to college begin their search by perusing US News and World Report, Forbes, Business Insider and other college rankings lists to get a sense for the schools that are realistic options for them given their academic credentials.  Only then do they review schools’ own websites. Even though Pomona removed its ranking from its website, the ranking is still easily accessible on Forbes’ website where students and their parents are likely to see it.

Further, removing the ranking from Pomona’s website will not change the pressure students feel to attend highly ranked colleges.  As long as these rankings exist, students will feel compelled to try to attend a highly ranked college, as these colleges (especially those on Forbes’ list) promise a higher return on students’ college investment.  Given the ever rising cost of a four-year education, this is important for all students, particularly those from low-income families or those who are paying for college without parental assistance. 

Additionally, the petition’s concerns about a lack of objective information are completely unfounded. Forbes’ rankings are based almost entirely on objective criteria: graduation rates, retention rates, graduates’ salaries, and average federal student loan debt load, for example. The only subjective data Forbes uses is student evaluations from RateMyProfessor, which constitute just 7.5% of a school’s ranking.

The petition goes on to state, “We encourage Pomona College to instead emphasize the many qualities which make it great and beloved–its community and relationships, small and rigorous classes, commitment to access, and student research and leadership opportunities. These qualities tell the story of our college far better than a single number.”

Oddly enough, these criteria are all entirely subjective. Nearly every US college brags on its website about its “community and relationships,” “rigorous classes,” and “leadership opportunities.” If these were the only criteria that schools presented to their prospective students, it would be impossible to distinguish any two colleges from one another. Forbes—and other similar rankings—use objective data to compare drastically different schools and give students the best opportunity to make a decision based on the qualities that are most important to them.

Students who don’t care about rankings—presumably the same students who signed the petition—should not care either way about how the rankings are publicized. After all, they certainly don’t take them into consideration when choosing which school to attend. But for some students—and, more importantly, for many employers—rankings are very important. The unfortunate truth is that despite Pomona’s strong academics and high ranking, it still is not a very well known school. There is a strong possibility that potential employers will not have heard of Pomona and will need to look it up when Pomona grads apply for jobs. The first hit an employer who googles Pomona College will see is Pomona’s official website. If pomona.edu lists the Forbes ranking right from the get-go, it guarantees that employers will know that Pomona is a well-respected college.

Perhaps the most troubling part of this debacle is the statement that it makes. Pomona’s removal of its ranking from the website is simply a statement that the school does not feel comfortable embracing its own success. Whether students are willing to admit it or not, college is competitive. Students compete to attend the best schools, schools compete to matriculate the best students, and employers compete to recruit graduates from the best colleges. In a competitive environment, not everyone can be a winner. Pomona should take pride in the fact that a major publication considers it to be the best college in America rather than giving in to the concerns of a handful of students who are worried that our objective success will negatively affect our vibrant and diverse community. There is no harm that can come of leaving the ranking online, but real harm could be done to Pomona graduates by failing to post the ranking. It is the responsibility of the college to do everything in its power to help its students succeed, and by removing the ranking from its website, Pomona has failed in that responsibility.

At Pomona, our culture assumes that anyone with a complaint has a legitimate grievance. This is simply not true, and it will be to the detriment of the school if we continue to allow anything that bothers even the tiniest fraction of our student body to be banned.

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Photography by Wes Edwards.

14 thoughts on “News Flash, Pomona: We’re #1—And That’s a Good Thing”

  1. I’m confused, I thought the argument for the petition was based on that Pomona College pledged not to publish it’s ranking in any publications. By putting the ranking on the site, the school wasn’t being held accountable for it’s promise. I don’t really care either way on the issue, just it seems like the KEY argument for the petition has been totally ignored here.

    1. When I attended Pomona in the early 80’s, it wasn’t as highly ranked or as competitive. Administrators, faculty, students and alumni all contributed to Pomona’s rise over the years. I think it’s entirely fair that we acknowledge and celebrate all the work done to make Pomona #1.

  2. Yeah I “signed” or whatever that petition because Pomona made that pledge then just completely ignored it as soon as it became the number 1 school. Yes, it is a very good thing, and yes, I am proud, but if Pomona is just going to ignore its promises like that I’d at least appreciate a reason from the people who made the decision.

  3. 1. A core part of the petition ignored in this article is the pledge Pomona signed in 2007 to not mention rankings in its own self-advertisement, a promise for which they should be held accountable.

    2. Personally, having the ranking be the first thing (and pretty much only set of words) seen upon opening the website shows more insecurity and less tact than either mentioning it later on the webpage or not at all. Why tell them we are #1 when we can show them why we are #1(especially since Forbes already told them for us)?

  4. LOL. Leave it to the 5C’s conservative magazine to write an article about why publicizing our ranking would be in our own self-interest while ignoring the broader harm it does to the system of higher education in the U.S. I’m not going to bother refuting the points made in this article, since they aren’t strong enough to merit that.

    1. What the **** are you talking about? Is this your way of saying there should be a trigger warning for this because people would be offended that there’s competition in the real world? Rankings are a thing. Grow up.

  5. As a student from a similar institution (Macalester College) who has served as an admissions ambassador for some time, I want to propose an alternative to emphasizing the qualities of Pomona on the website. Steven does well to point out that similar material can be found on the site of pretty much any given college. In my experience, what really sticks in the mind of prospective students are specific anecdotes. I end every one of my campus tours with the detailed story of my Macalester class visit and how it helped me discover Mac’s participatory, discussion-based academic nature that convinced me to enroll. That’s something that can’t be expressed by text on a screen. Instead of generalizing the “commitment to access” and “rigorous classes,” on the website, why not put up material encouraging students to experience it for themselves by visiting a class on campus or staying overnight? Since I realize this option is not always financially or geographically feasible for some families, a good alternative would be to advertise a system that attempts to put prospective students in direct email contact with current students involved in similar activities on campus. Every applicant will come in with unique “checklist” of what they want in a college, and it’s incredible to see how inspired they can be when a school is able to match them with a representative who shares one or more of their interests.

    I also want to address the alleged issue of stress and anxiety placed on prospective applicants by rankings. Although they may seem intimidating at face value, each applicant should recognize that they are considered for admission not only based on their academic record, but on how well they will fit into the community that exists at the school. Rankings, especially when focused in specific areas like athletic facilities, particular majors, and professor accessibility, can actually reduce stress by helping prospective students build a list of schools based on what they are looking for in a college. If rankings are accompanied with appropriate data and documentation, (which the Forbes ranking was), then a student should have no trouble looking past the sometimes superficial number to see if the factors that went into it are of interest to them.

  6. The motto of Forbes magazine is “The Capitalist Tool.” – Forbes is now owned by a group in communist China.

    Forbes list:
    #11 West Point
    #27 Annapolis
    #35 Berkeley
    There might something wrong with the Forbes ranking criteria.

    In four years, you could find yourself working for a Texas A&M (#150) graduate who lacks an appreciation of this list. Yes, the world can be that cruel.

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