Thursday, September 15, 2016

Colleges are Taking Advantage of Ranking Systems

With the help of big data, college admissions offices have begun forming algorithms that predict likely outcomes for individual students (chances the student enrolls if accepted, chances the student will graduate, etc.). This helps schools appeal to the ranking systems many high school parents use to narrow down college choices for their children. With schools pushing themselves higher up the ranking, they are becoming more exclusive, leading to anxiety among high school students.
Data in general can be very helpful as a predictive tool: find scenarios similar to the one at hand, see how those scenarios played out, and you have a pretty good guess at how this one will go. So it makes sense that college admissions offices would want to tap in to this huge pool of big data that is available in order to better their school and help their students. Unfortunately these universities aren’t using the information they’re finding to actually make their schools any better, just more attractive to the ranking systems. Instead of attempting to make their schools more conducive to learning, they are spending huge money on lavish living areas (part of most ranking criteria.) And because one criterion is the percentage of accepted students who enroll, many students are getting rejected simply because the school’s algorithm doesn’t find it likely they will attend. Chances are, however, they are leaving out students who would have attended if accepted. And although SAT scores have not been proven as a great predictor of a student’s success, schools are accepting students with high SAT scores because average SAT score is an easy measurable for ranking systems to utilize.
It is obvious that big data is extremely useful and can be applied in almost all situations. Unfortunately when intimate personalized decisions like choice of college get turned into math equations, it can have a negative effect. This problem could be easily solved if people simply stopped looking at theses ranking (they’re not very helpful anyway). Unfortunately, though, people like scores and rankings because they’re easy to look at and quantify things that are hard to quantify. And in this world, companies will give the people what they want. Big data is a superpower, and universities need to start using that power for good instead of evil.



  1. Interesting article, Ryan! I can actually relate to this, as I know a friend of a friend who is in the process of creating a start-up company that takes "University Big Data" and flips the concept on its head; instead of universities using it for monetary purposes, he plans on creating a database where prospective college students can look at the big data and draw their own conclusions (whether they can qualify as an applicant, their chances of getting a certain scholarship, etc.). One thing that is pertinent to big data that I discovered when listening to his business model, is that the big data that is gathered from sights such as CollegeBoard, cannot be found anywhere else! In other words, the value of that data is a lot more than one would think (going back to the accounting example of the value of data that we talked about in class)!

  2. I found this article quite fascinating to read. It is very interesting that colleges are using SAT scores and rankings to determine which students to admit and which to deny. I would think that colleges would look at students based off of more than just numbers on a page because numbers cant determine the quality of a person or what they have to offer. I also find it hard to believe at the same time that students are using rankings of colleges to determine which colleges to apply to. I know when I was applying to colleges; I didn't even look at rankings. I looked at which colleges were closest to where I lived and how much they cost because I knew I wasn’t going to be living there. I would think that students would be looking at cost, location, curriculum, ratings and reviews, environment and campuses to make a decision about whether or not they would like the college or want to go there. Colleges should be looking at well-rounded individuals to be able to make their college more attractive to applicants. They shouldn’t base it off of scores on test that don’t actually show how intelligent or how knowledgeable a student can be.

  3. Ryan chose a great article for his first blog post, however as I read the article I found it quite disheartening. The fact that colleges are accepting students based off of an algorithm is unfair in my opinion. Kids are so much more than what you read about them on paper. The SAT measures one’s test taking ability but does not take a holistic approach when looking at the student and consequently does not make a fair judgment when deciding to accept or deny a student.

    These algorithms are only important to colleges because of their rankings. Bucknell lied about their average SAT scores for six years and Emory sent biased SAT scores and class ranks in for eleven years which shows the universities have taken this too far. Two well respected schools fudging the numbers is unacceptable and I believe action should be taken against them for their misconduct.

    The article stated that “the more the model is gamed, the more expensive colleges become. There’s not a penalty for high tuition”. I believe that at some point in the (hopefully near) future college tuition will hit its peak and no longer increase year over year. If tuition were to increase indefinitely, student loans would get to be so large that kids would never be able to pay off their debt and would spend their whole life working off the money they owe to their school. College is all about return on investment, and the idea is that people who go to college will make more money over the long run than those who choose to forego a college education. However, if someone is just spending their whole life paying off their college debt and barely netting any money, this simply is not worth it.

    Overall, the message this article sent surprised me, as I was under the impression that the trend of how colleges were looking at students was moving in the other direction. When I was beginning the college application process I remember schools saying they look at the whole person, SAT scores, high school GPA, and essay before making any decisions so I was taken aback by the message the article conveyed. Loyola, for example has the option of allowing the applicant to not send in their SAT scores, and they look at many aspects of the student before making their choice to admit or deny someone, versus seeing numbers on paper and believing that tells the whole story. Sure if someone has a perfect 2400 score on their SAT’s that is impressive, but I believe it is just as important to know if someone is looking to get involved on campus or is willing to take a leadership role in the school. I hope more colleges go in the direct Loyola does for the sake of the student and the overall betterment of their university, not just their position in the rankings.

  4. When I first began to read this article I became intrigued to see how Colleges are exactly using data in the admissions process. After finding out that this is an example of how Big Data could have a negative result. I can't say that I agree with colleges using an algorithm to determine what students to admit to their colleges. Simple numbers cannot determine the type of person a student is and whether they will attend their college. Just because a math problem says that a student will not accept, does not mean that the student will not. Every student wants to attend a well ranked college but now a days location and tuition play a big factor. I found it shocking how colleges are still using SAT scores for their rankings since when we applied to colleges, more and more were becoming SAT optional. There was an option to not send your SAT score and instead write an extra essay or look at your cumulative GPA . The new use of Big Data in admission processes has me wondering if this will still be an option for applicants. Colleges should look at a students involvement in high school and cumulative GPA when making a decision. A student may not be the best test taker and have a low SAT score, however the have high GPA's and are leaders. Wichita State University is using this system to predict the future academic success of their students. They take enrolled students and predict the likelihood of them failing a course. With this, advisors then suggest if the student should stick with or change their major before starting. I feel that this is another algorithm that will not work because you cannot predict a students academic success before they even start. This is the perfect example of how using Big Data can turn people away that would have been the perfect fit.


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