Each year, Forbes releases a list of America’s Top Colleges. This year, Kenyon’s ranking plummeted, falling to the 287th-ranked institution. This comes after Forbes listed Kenyon as a top 100 institution when it last published its rankings in 2019. Some may dismiss this news as unimportant, with college rankings being inherently subjective and somewhat arbitrary. Nonetheless, an examination of the criteria that Forbes uses to compile its college rankings tells us that Kenyon struggles in areas relating to diversity and equity.
Since the 2019 rankings were released, Forbes has transformed their methodological approach in a manner that bodes poorly for Kenyon. Affordability and socioeconomic diversity of the schools’ student bodies have become a more heavily weighted part of the equation. Compared to schools that ranked more favorably on the Forbes list, Kenyon leaves graduates with a higher price-to-earnings premium and serves relatively few students from low- to middle-income families (only 10% of Kenyon students receive federal Pell Grants).
Additionally, Kenyon is disadvantaged in the Forbes ranking criteria based on some factors that are out of its control. Forbes’ American leaders list and academic success criteria (together worth 35% of the ranking) measure graduates’ professional and academic achievements in gross, rather than per-capita, terms. Kenyon is a small institution, so relatively few of our alumni will win Nobel Prizes and earn Ph.D.s compared to a college that is 10 times our size. Sadly, for Kenyon, the only notable alumnus in recent years — per Forbes’ classification of influential people — is James Monsees, co-founder of the notorious e-cigarette company Juul. Presumably, the Office of Admissions will not be boasting about this on their campus tours for prospective students. Still, the College should take some accountability for its drop in the rankings, rather than attribute it entirely to a flawed methodology.
There are steps that Kenyon could take to improve our ranking in future years. The College could select students from a more diverse applicant pool and enhance financial aid packages to ensure the long-term success of disadvantaged students. Kenyon could also better equip students for the professional world by strengthening its college-to-career pipeline and making further use of its network of alumni. This would result in higher median salaries for Kenyon graduates, and would hopefully help Kenyon move forward in solving one of its biggest shortcomings: return on investment.
The political climate is such that academic institutions are judged more so for their ability to provide fairly priced education to students from a diversity of backgrounds, rather than for their ability to offer an elite academic experience. If equity and diversity remain central to national college rankings in the years to come, then the College’s status will continue to fall unless it prioritizes related institutional changes. Eventually, the diminished prestige of Kenyon could discourage promising applicants from applying, thus reinforcing the narrative that Kenyon is a lower-tier institution.
The College may contend that the aforementioned reform is prohibitively expensive. I am not one to say — I will leave budget analysis to the administration and Board of Trustees. But as our society becomes more sensitive to issues of equality, being cheap can be quite costly.
Milo Levine ’23 is a columnist at the Collegian. He is an economics major from Mill Valley, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com.