Representation over Prestige: Reassessing undergraduate rankings 

Ivy climbs on a brick wall. With the release of the “President’s Report” by President Maric comes the emphasization of rankings and prestige. UConn is often referred to as a “public Ivy,” playing into the idea of recognition and prestige. Photo by Morgane Le Breton on Unsplash

With the past few weeks consisting of numerous discussions surrounding the financial future of the University of Connecticut and its constituents, and in the light of recent editorials, I think it’s worthwhile to assess what exactly UConn is fighting to preserve. Aside from the blatant transparency exhibited by the university’s actions and comments regarding a not-high-enough budget proposal from Gov. Ned Lamont, the answer may lie in the comments shared by President Radenka Maric during Wednesday’s board of trustees meeting.  

Maric shared the “President’s Report,” a presentation regarding updated statistics on the undergraduate student body. In it she emphasized rising SAT averages of first-year applicants — comparing UConn scores to the likes of University of California, Berkeley — as well as the 4.1 average years to graduation and $1.2 million return on investment from a bachelor’s degree over a 40-year span. While these numbers signify a positive trend in the quality of applicants and post-graduate outcomes, why should this matter? And more importantly, who do these numbers matter to? 

Students, of course; but there’s more to it than that. If the past week taught us anything, it’s that the university has made no attempt to hide its anterior motives behind anything it does. Funding, recognition and prestige plague the college atmosphere, and UConn is not exonerated from this obsession. Talks of making UConn a “public Ivy” and shifting away from the land-grant university it once served to represent through increases in federal funding and admissions statistics is a frightening reality.  

UConn nearly imploded when the news broke that it was no longer a top-25 public university. With U.S. News and World Report ranking the university 26 overall, alongside the likes of UMass-Amherst and Texas A&M, the 10-year streak was broken. Maric’s emphasis on SAT scores — an exam proven to show preference to white, upper-class test-takers — despite UConn switching to a test-optional admissions process through the Fall 2026 semester is a troubling reminder that college admissions, and the administrators that continue to tout its importance, will always show preference for students of privileged backgrounds.  

Despite promoting its initiatives in the international sphere through programs such as the Dodd Human Rights Impact or the more than 1,400 undergraduate students hailing from countries outside of the U.S., it’s moments like these, as subtle as they may be, that remind one that underneath any U.S. institution lies centuries of western settler-colonialist ideologies that have continued to shape the admissions process and the undergraduate experience as a whole.  

Granted, this is all said without examining the college ranking system which has historically shown bias towards rich, private and often problematic institutions. Seeing numerous formerly high-ranked schools drop out from the U.S. News ranking entirely should remind administrators of other institutions that the data used in such rankings are often inflated or falsified. A quantitative investigation done by Michael Thaddeus, a mathematics professor at Columbia University, found that there existed multiple occasions in which Columbia had skewed self-reported statistics such as average class size, average time to graduation and student-faculty ratio, all of which represent significant proportions of the total ranking formula. “When U.S. News emphasized selectivity, the elite universities were drawn into a selectivity arms race and drove their acceptance rates down to absurdly low levels. Now it emphasizes graduation rates instead, and it is not hard to foresee that these same universities will graduate more and more students whose records do not warrant it, just to keep graduation rates,” Thaddeus posits.  

Last year’s History Department’s Prize Day Award winners pose for a picture in McHugh Hall. UConn has always put an emphasis on student achievement which is important for image. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus.

With this in mind, I can’t help but be wary of Maric’s emphasis on SAT scores, graduation rate and a massive increase in applicants — which almost always results in a lower yield, and not a larger class size. In an attempt to standardize the human experience, rankings have done little but force universities into identifying areas in which it can establish a mold for its incoming applicants. Ranking Yale or Harvard at number one is not an indicator that Yale is one ranking point “better” than Harvard, just as UConn is not one ranking point “worse” than UMass-Amherst. It’s entirely subjective. If I were an applicant looking to become the next U.S. President, and I was deciding between Yale and UConn, statistically I’d select Yale, as they’ve been responsible for more U.S. Presidents than UConn has — five more to be exact. If I were a No. 1 women’s basketball recruit, and my dreams were to make it to the WNBA, however, I’d easily pick UConn.  

And before someone leaves some slanderous comment on this piece, what with my captain obvious-level intuition, I’m not done yet, okay? As Colin Diver so eloquently put it, “Trying to rank institutions of higher education is a little like trying to rank religions or philosophies. The entire enterprise is flawed, not only in detail but also in conception.” Knowing that U.S. News places statistical emphasis on graduation rates means it is in UConn’s best interest to “improve” this number, even if that means approving students for graduation who previously would not have been ready. The rankings, above all, do little but establish what percentage of the student body has historically been successful in a capitalist-driven role, with no mention of mental sustainability, happiness and purpose, ethical harm to the world and overall quality of life. And yet, high school students are constantly fed this information, with GPA medians and SAT averages becoming etched into their minds throughout the admissions process.  

What’s worse, however, is hearing it as a college student. The rank of a college such as Berkeley, which as aforementioned Maric compared UConn’s statistics to, has no bearing on my college experience. What does, however, is being told that Berkeley, or any university ranked higher than UConn, is “better” than the school we attend. I understand the sentiment that UConn should continue to promote itself as an establishment of education in the eyes of those who deem it important enough to fund; I appreciate this sentiment even, at least when it results in tangible change that benefits the student body. What I don’t appreciate, however, is watching a university, which as proven by the last two weeks has done little to promote any sort of financial — or environmental— sustainability, emphasize increases in SAT scores of incoming applicants. Rather than continuing to fight the rankings fight, a battle which many schools have conceded to, the university should assess its values, ensuring that the decisions being made at the university level are done to protect and promote the livelihood and representation of the student body, and not just some online list.  

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