I wouldn't say US News & World Report's annual list of best colleges is a total joke, but the fact that about 25 percent of the ranking for each school is determined by a survey of reputation filled out by college presidents should raise some serious speculation as to how seriously the list should be taken. How, exactly, is a president supposed to fairly judge the academic worth of hundreds of other colleges when most of them have a hard enough time keeping track of their own institutions' academic worth?
If you've ever thought there's a little gamesmanship that goes into the rankings, you're probably correct. The Gainesville Sun got a hold of University of Florida President Bernie Machen's ballot
for the 2010 list, which will be published in the fall. You might be surprised to learn that UF has the same academic worth as Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. You also might be caught off-guard to discover that University of Miami is on the same level as FSU, a level that's not even close to UF's, and that most of Florida's colleges are merely marginal.
Presidents are asked to rank each college on a scale of 1 to 5: 1 being "distinguished" and 5 being "marginal." Machen, of course, marked UF with a 5. He gave FSU and UM a score of 3, or "good."
I'm a UM grad, so maybe I'm a bit biased, but I did apply to, get accepted to, and seriously considered attending UF or FSU, and I'm pretty sure UF and UM are on about the same level academically (in fact, in last year's ranking, UF came in at 49, and UM at 51). FSU trails significantly behind both in most programs (sorry, Seminoles).
Usually these ballots aren't publicized, and the Sun doesn't say how it got a hold of Machen's ballot, but it does expose the frivolity of the system. It also makes me wonder what UM President Donna Shalala's ballot looked like.