- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Promotional information about colleges can be just as misleading as an Enron or Global Crossing prospectus. The annual U.S. News & World Report rating of colleges is out. Thousands of bright high school seniors and their parents will greedily digest it to decide what schools are worthy of their attention. Students with straight A averages and 1,400-plus SAT scores know their chances of attending one of the top schools are pretty good.

And what student wouldn't want to be able to tell people he's at Harvard, Stanford, or Swarthmore? What parents wouldn't enjoy the voluptuous glory of being able to say, "My son is at Princeton?"

But do U.S. News rankings truly foretell the quality of education available at its "best" schools?

Those ratings have been the most widely read campus evaluations for more than a decade. Millions uncritically accept U.S. News' gauge of which are the top colleges and universities. The magazine's word is vital for many families in selecting the institution that will prepare junior for life. But how does U.S. News evaluate colleges? How important are the criteria its uses to rank schools?

U.S. News says that its rankings rely "on quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality." The greatest weight is given to "academic reputation" or what those experts say are the best schools. But the experts are college presidents, admissions officers and provosts, the same people who have led higher education in its decline into political correctness and lowered academic standards. They are clearly not people who would question whether the top schools of 30 years ago are necessarily the leading colleges today. Other criteria in descending order of importance are graduation rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, spending per student and alumni giving.

Perhaps these facts are important to education experts. But they are not important to me. What I want to know as a parent is exactly what my son or daughter will be taught. Is there a core curriculum? If not, are there rigorous distribution requirements that will ensure a broad education? Is American history required? (At many schools it is not.) Is the faculty philosophically balanced and dedicated to teaching or is it a collection of academic activists bent on imprinting its ideology on young people? Are there speech codes? Have postmodernists taken over to teach their subjects through the prisms of race, class, and sex? These are the questions that should concern us. But they are questions that U.S. News never considers. To do so its writers would have to make judgments on the value of material being taught and that's something the media refuse to do.

If U.S. News did its job honestly we would know the true character of its highly rated colleges. But U.S. News forfeits that responsibility and leaves it to others. For instance:

The Young America's Foundation in Herndon, Va. produces an annual survey called "Comedy & Tragedy," listing questionable courses offered at the nation's leading schools. In this survey parents will learn that their sons and daughters can take courses at Harvard such as "The Queer Novel" "Witchcraft" and "Marxist Theories of Racism." Cornell offers "Queer Theory," "Feminist Political Theory" and "The Sexual Child," a course that views pedophilia in a positive light. Similar classes are available at most of U.S. News' highest-rated colleges. Wouldn't the magazine be performing a service to note these radical changes in the curricula and to ask whether they have worth in a person's education?

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Delaware publishes "Choosing the Right College," a guide to the best schools in the United States. Unlike U.S. News and other college guides, it answers most of the important questions about academic standards, core curricula, and the content of classes. It presents a six-to-eight-page analysis giving a detailed picture of education and campus life at each college. And the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in California found that only 3 percent of professors at Ivy League colleges are Republicans. (Other surveys show similar figures at non-Ivy schools.) How does this happen? How does the national faculty become so monolithically partisan and what does it say about the nature of higher education? Is this not a question U.S. News should consider? Apparently not.

In brief, Americans should know that most of our 1,500 colleges offer an education that rejects America's principles; an education that is of doubtful value and often quite bizarre. There are perhaps 40-50 colleges where students need not negotiate a labyrinthine minefield of biased courses in search of a decent education. Students should know that a far more valuable education that will enrich them their whole lives awaits them at less famous schools such as Grove City, Hillsdale, Millsaps and Hampden-Sydney, not at places like Harvard, Cornell or Swarthmore.

To students: Spurn the glory. Ignore U.S. News. Get a real education.

James B. Taylor is president of the World Youth Crusade and editor of National Alumni Digest.

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