Scores and Rankings

Perception – it’s not something you usually think about as its own entity. But pre-conceived notions often make up the key elements in a person’s reaction to new situations. Consider the process by which an individual decides to attend post-high school education.

The educational system has been a busy bee. Proper society pushes young people towards an education beyond the traditional grade school, yet the bulk of the monetary cost to attend a college or university falls largely on the individual and perhaps his or her family. The fact that higher education costs money – a functional tool which represents goods and services to be exchanged within the framework of a civilization – implies that guided learning is a service that is provided in exchange for something. What exactly will the individual return to society once he or she has finished being educated? One could argue that every person who willingly pays for education is expected to return some service not necessarily to the educational system itself, but at least towards the benefit of society as a whole. Thus, the educational system needs to help individuals learn how to help the civilization they exist in. This is not an easy task, because the people who go into the system may not understand or necessarily agree with this point of view.

Furthermore, why someone goes to school is not always clearly understood – this is problematic when an individual may not have a clear idea of how to benefit society as a whole before attending classes, while registered as a student, and even months after graduation. In fact, the question of what higher education is supposed to do for someone might never explicitly cross some people’s minds.

Criteria by which academic institutions are examined:

Personal circumstances; obviously, personal circumstances can derail or embolden any desire for higher education.

Pure Numerical:
Graduation/retention rates
Test scores
Diversity (age, economic, ethnic, gender, geographic – international and within country)
Applications and acceptance: Who applies, who gets in, and who goes

These qualities have been well-documented and are oft-cited by most educational ranking systems, and for good reason: they are numerical statistics, compiled and widely understood. Thus, these kind of metrics tend to be the ones that media focuses on when discussing higher education.

Geographic culture and environmental surroundings (regional location, proximity to urbanity, weather)
Social culture
Student and non-student perception

More difficult to quantify, lifestyle choices can range from easily understood (Tucson winter climate is vastly different from Boston winter climate) to highly variable (different students at the same university will have different opinions on the university). Surveys are sometimes used to categorize these criteria, but qualitative information is widely regarded as difficult to parse into descriptive numbers. Lifestyle criteria may have some crossover with pure numerical criteria – for example, a school with high racial diversity may be perceived to have a cultural advantage over a similar school with less racial diversity.

Social future:
Career path and job market

Higher education can possibly be described as a pathway towards a job or career. First, I define a job as a human position with functional characteristics that could be perceived as socially beneficial and a career as the series of jobs an individual partakes in. It is apparent that the more specialized a job becomes, the more useful some forms of education will become compared to others.

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