Young woman writing notes while watching video lesson on her computer.

College Rankings’ Narrow Focus Don’t Reflect the Diversity of Higher Education

Increasingly, elite colleges and universities like Harvard Medical School and the law schools at UC Berkeley and UCLA have announced that they will refuse to participate in the U.S. News college rankings. In fact, 10 of the 15 top ranked law schools say they will refuse to be part of the process.

It’s a big development that calls into question the very idea of a ranking system to find “the best” colleges. 

“(T)here can be no single best college,” Colin Diver, the former President of Reed College, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “It takes real chutzpah to claim that a formula comprising arbitrarily chosen factors and weights, which keep changing from year to year, can produce a single, all-purpose measure of institutional quality.” 

It’s also true, however, that the idea of elite colleges ranking students to get “the best” through their admissions process is equally absurd. College admissions is not a meritocracy. In fact, questions over the admissions processes to “elite” schools may be a tempest in a teapot, as “elite” schools represent an incredibly small proportion of American college students. In 2022 the entire Ivy League had well under 100,000 undergraduates, while the California Community College system had 1.8 million. Community colleges as a whole in the U.S. have about 7 million students – and we’re still not even looking at the vast majority of four year colleges.

College Should Be Accessible To Everyone Who Wants It

Given the degree to which a college-level education is increasingly important to living and working in the world, a college-level education should be available to everyone who wants it. There simply is no college that is “best” for everybody – different students have different needs and goals. How well an institution fits within students’ lives and priorities can be a far more important factor in their success than the prestige of the school. 

We can help more students, and advance our economy, if we focus on supporting students in their journey to an institution where they’ll be successful and acquire the skills they need to be prepared for the knowledge economy. 

A Free Online Community College Can Better Meet The Needs of Some Students

Studies continue to show that in area after area, it is public colleges and universities that offer the most economic mobility and the greatest value, and whose alumni have the greatest satisfaction with their education. For Californians, this is good news, as the state is home to the largest college system in the country (the California Community Colleges system), the world’s premier research university (the University of California system), and the nation’s largest public four-year university system (the California State University system).

At Calbright College—part of the California Community Colleges system—we admit every applicant who is an adult Californian with a high school degree or equivalent. That’s it. There’s no competition, and the process is easy. Further, there are  no financial aid forms to fill out or application fees, because Calbright College is free. 

Calbright is also specifically designed to meet the needs of specific populations: it’s not trying to be the right college for all people. It exists because there aren’t enough colleges designed to support California’s “stranded workers” – working adults (often family caretakers) who want to improve their career but don’t have the time or resources to attend a traditional college for several years. 

Calbright has a limited offering of non-degree certificates designed to quickly improve the careers of people for whom traditional college isn’t a good option. Students can study wherever they are, whenever they want – first thing in the morning, late at night, or between shifts. They study at their own pace, using our Competency-Based Education model, and have access to career support that helps with everything from writing their resume to networking and honing interview skills. Upon completion, they’ll be ready to enter the workforce in careers like IT, Cybersecurity, and CRM/Salesforce Platform Administration. 

It’s a great approach for a time when companies are increasingly hiring for skills rather than degrees, and it’s perfect for the students that need it most.

Calbright has reimagined college and put students at the center of its design and model of education.  

Related Blogs

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that colleges cannot consider race in their admissions...

A new experiment in Minnesota is once again proving what we already know: when you...

Recently, data journalists at the New York Times explored a challenging question for higher education:...

Ready to get rolling?