3-Minute Interview: Lloyd Thacker

A graduate of political science at UC San Diego and UC Davis with a 17-year stint as a college counselor, Lloyd Thacker’s book “Colleges Unranked: Ending the College Admission Frenzy” criticizes the billion-dollar industries associated with getting into college. He speaks at San Francisco’s Lick-Wilmerding High School today and Atherton’s Sacred Heart Preparatory on Tuesday.

You say college admissions have changed in the past 30 years and higher education is now a commercial industry. What role do rankings play? The rankings imply a degree of precision and authority that is not supported by data. They really measure the wealth of a college while saying nothing about the amount of learning going on at a college.

What criteria are used in college ranking systems, such as the annual U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition? Twenty-five percent of a school’s ranking is based on a reputational survey, which is filled out by presidents of other schools. SAT scores also play a big part. That’s very problematic because they’re the most closely associated with socioeconomic backgrounds. And alumni giving plays a big part in a college’s ranking, so the wealthiest colleges continue to rank high. Not only are the criteria unimportant, they are easily manipulated.

Colleges are having a tough time getting people in the doors, so who cares if they use business strategies to increase enrollment? They shouldn’t have to spend so much money to get that to happen. Colleges are carving each other up. They have more to gain by cooperating than they do by competing. We’d raise the appetite for real education.

If you could rank the top three schools, what would theybe? I wouldn’t. The ranking system is the problem. Students need to realize that great education happens in many places. The key is the attitude and behavior that the student brings to the education process.

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