Cornell Drops a Spot and the World is Ending

10 09 2013

USN&WR drops Cornell from 15th to 16th and the entire Cornell-centric world becomes unglued.

“If we don’t get back to top 12 soon, I’m rescinding my diploma.”

“it was 12 like my sophomore year with Columbia at 10.
now it’s 16 and Columbia is at 4. Yay for Skorton!”

Not even in top 15.. Cornell is dilutinge ivy league brand.. Should apologize to rest of ivys…

Quick Trudy, grab the smelling salts, I fear a mass fainting spell is a-comin’.

Ignoring the fact that rankings are becoming a dime a dozen, and that USN&WR tweaked its ranking system, I’m going to focus on the historical standpoint of rankings. First off, a brief check of previous rankings of Cornell by USN&WR. As noted by the Chronicle, Cornell’s US News ranking generally fluctuated between 10th and 14th from 1989-2009. More specifically:

2014: 16th

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013: 15th

2009: 14th

2008: 13th

2007: 12th

2006: 13th

2002, 2003, 2004, 2005: 14th

2001: 10th

2000: 11th

1999: 6th

1998, 1997: 14th

1996: 13th

1995: 15th

1994: 10th

1993: 11th

1992: 12th

1991: 9th

1990: 11th

1989: 14th

1988: 11th

1983: 8th

Let me offer a visualization:

cu_usnwr

Cornell has only briefly flirted with rankings of 12th or higher in the past two decades. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in general, it’s less what Cornell is doing and the changes have more to do with the way the rankings are calculated. Noting the above commenters, and that Columbia was last ranked 10th in 2003, it’s essentially a group of knee-jerk reactions from not-so-young alumni.  With regards to the previous entry, we’ve seen that US News’s ranking has little bearing on the acceptance rates, application numbers, and applicant yields. I understand the prestige factor and concerns if this worsens, but unless your job is extraordinarily dependent on your alma mater’s current ranking by a single agency, I suggest toning down the hysterics.

It’s the same damn thing every time. Ranking drops, people from that school are up in arms, the school is decaying, students are worse these days, its the admin’s fault, don’t associate with me with that lowly school. Ranking goes up, people call it “the new/public/Southern/Western Ivy/Harvard/insert prestige item here” and croon about how smart they are, even if they went there twenty years ago when its rankings were lower.

It’s good to assess the school’s direction periodically, but with every annual reranking, some alums need a reality check more than anything else.

 

 

 

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4 responses

10 09 2013
Cornell PhD student

Not sure your narrative really fits the visualization. If you apply a curve to the data, there’s a clear trend of decline, although it’s admittedly very slow.

Blaming the administration may be fruitless; much of this has to do with relative decline vs. urban schools that have seen their stocks rise with the improved situation for city living in recent decades. Cornell may even be able to combat that in the long-term with the new tech campus, but it’d be nice to see them thinking a little about what to do about Ithaca’s isolation (incentivizing better, cheaper bus services for students, investing in improving the physical stock and economy of Ithaca to a greater extent, lobbying for more government funding to improve access to the city, etc.)

10 09 2013
B. C.

Hi, thanks for your post.

I agree that there is a very slow decline in US News’s rankings for Cornell, and it is certainly something for the administration to consider. But I also think that a decline of a couple spots over a decade does not merit the degree of outrage some alumni are expressing.

Your comment opens up a much larger topic to explore. In the top 20, the only schools that are outside of large urban areas are Dartmouth (Hanover) and Cornell (Ithaca). While new urban planning/renewal has (thankfully) taken hold in many areas, I’d be hesitant to consider it as anything beyond a very minor factor in the values for any of the parameters used by US News (perhaps the biggest contribution being through access to nearby internship and networking opportunities, which I don’t think is something that has changed substantially). I don’t think the tech campus will matter much in USN&WR’s ranking since it’s intended for graduate/professional work, whereas the rankings are for undergrad. This is offhand and it might be a bit crude to suggest, but if we really wanted to “play to our strengths”, we’d shrink many programs to reduce our acceptance rates and limit “borderline” degree candidates that might not be able to cut it at Cornell. I don’t support that, but it could game the rankings formula.

11 09 2013
Cornell PhD student

Well, selectivity is clearly key. Definitely the biggest gains could probably be achieved by shrinking programs. Unfortunately, it’s not a very realistic suggestion, considering the admin is both committed to the idea of remaining a sprawling institution for historical and ideological reasons and has serious financial incentives to continue expanding the student body.

Barring that, Cornell could look into its pull factors. Columbia didn’t just get where it did today by manipulating its selectivity numbers (although that obviously had something to do with it) – it’s legitimately had a major bump in applications that coincided with the improvement of New York. I know many applicants don’t even consider Cornell because of its rural isolation – I definitely had no intention of coming here for college and I only applied for my PhD on the suggestion of an advisor who recommended some of the faculty. I would have never considered it over a school close to a major airport or rail line, even if that school were lower ranked. And it’s not just student preferences for these things that matter – if the school struggles to attract top faculty, that has an effect on student recruitment and selectivity as well.

11 09 2013
Cornell PhD student

Well, selectivity is clearly key. Definitely the biggest gains could probably be achieved by shrinking programs. Unfortunately, it’s not a very realistic suggestion, considering the admin is both committed to the idea of remaining a sprawling institution for historical and ideological reasons and has serious financial incentives to continue expanding the student body.

Barring that, Cornell could look into its pull factors. Columbia didn’t just get where it did today by manipulating its selectivity numbers (although that obviously had something to do with it) – it’s legitimately had a major bump in applications that coincided with the improvement of New York. I know many applicants don’t even consider Cornell because of its rural isolation – I definitely had no intention of coming here for college and I only applied for my PhD on the suggestion of an advisor who recommended some of the faculty. I would have never considered it over a school close to a major airport or rail line, even if that school were lower ranked. And it’s not just student preferences for these things that matter – if the school struggles to attract top faculty, that has an effect on student recruitment and selectivity as well.

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