On Aug. 30, Forbes released its annual Top Colleges List, which ranks its top 500 institutions of higher education in the United States. This year, Kenyon College climbed to No. 176 in Forbes’ ranking — an over 100-spot improvement from last year’s ranking of 287th-best college in the country. The large leap is perplexing when juxtaposed with the dramatic fall Kenyon’s ranking saw from 2019 to 2021 — especially considering that its ranking did not change in this year’s U.S. News and World Report list, released on Sept. 12, where Kenyon remains the No. 31 liberal arts school in the U.S. Though seemingly a reason to celebrate, the deeper implication of Kenyon’s improved position in Forbes’ assessment is perhaps more unceremonious: With arbitrary nuances, questionable data interpretations and suspect methodologies that are easily manipulated, college rankings are a poor — if not inherently flawed — measure of a college’s success, and should not be treated as gospel.
Forbes’ methodology has changed only minimally since they constructed last year’s list. Graduate debt, alumni salary, retention rate, academic success and mentions on Forbes’ “American Leaders List” are all measures used in 2021 that were equally reassessed this year. Notably, though, Forbes placed more emphasis on return on investment (ROI) of low-income students, while also rewarding colleges for enrolling and graduating larger proportions of low-income students and Pell Grant recipients.
In most of the aforementioned metrics, Kenyon yielded results that were all but equal to last year: Kenyon still comprises 22 percent students of color, its six-year graduation rate is statistically equivalent to last year’s (89 percent and 90 percent, respectively) and the College’s only “American Leaders List”-worthy alumnus remains scandal-stricken Juul founder James Monsees ’02. However, in the metrics that Forbes is allegedly emphasizing this year, Kenyon ostensibly performed worse.
According to Kenyon’s IPEDS data, the six-year graduation rate of Kenyon Pell Grant recipients fell from 97 percent in 2019-20 to 86.7 percent in 2020-21, with the proportion of Pell Grant recipients remaining nearly the same. Further, according to Georgetown’s ranking of ROI of U.S. colleges and universities, which assesses costs, earnings and length of time on ROI with a proprietary net present value (NPV) metric, Kenyon graduates have an average NPV of $38,000 after 10 years: poor enough to place Kenyon 4,130th out of 4,500 higher-education institutions. While the College climbs to No. 756 after 40 years, the ROI is still exorbitantly low. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to see how Kenyon was able to gain any ground in Forbes’ ranking — much less 111 spots — with fewer graduates who received Pell Grants, a pitiful ROI and other metrics remaining stagnant.
Though Forbes is perhaps the easier target given the paradoxical nature of Kenyon’s surge in ranking, college rankings in general — including those published by U.S. News and World Report — are largely fallacious, with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona going so far as to say they are an outright “joke.” With schools like Columbia University able to bolster their position in such rankings with erroneous data, Cardona is dead-on: It is difficult, if not impossible, to trust the integrity of college rankings, if such rankings seem to inconsistently apply their analyses and are vulnerable to fraudulent data. In turn, it is imperative that Kenyon students, faculty, alumni and parents do not take college rankings at face value, and trust that such rankings are not indicative of an institution’s worth.
Salvatore, Amelia and Reid
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Amelia Carnell ’23 and Salvatore Macchione ’23 and executive director Reid Stautberg ’23. You can contact them at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, respectively.