The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Revisiting Our Rankings

The University stands out against many of its peer institutions for its storied, albeit eccentric, traditions, but now it stands out for another reason: its fall in rankings. Should UChicago continue moving forward as is or pause and reflect on the situation?
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Sophie Bauer
Saieh Hall as seen from the quad.

The University of Chicago prides itself on being different; if it were a member of Gen Z, it’d probably say it’s not like other girls. The quarter system, the theory-over-practice academics, the nontraditional majors, the nerdy culture; UChicago has cultivated an image distinct from the other Ivy Pluses.

But saying and doing are two different things. The University of Chicago is losing its distinctive identity. For several years, UChicago could use its third-place ranking by U.S. News and World Report to justify—and to hide—the gradual shift in its values. Its gradual fall to 12th place—a lofty ranking, to be sure, but a distinctly unglamorous one—has elicited dialogue surrounding the prowess of the University. Some say this is just a number, but when this number quantifies our prestige and status among the upper echelons of academia, having two digits instead of one makes us seem ordinary. In as much as one can argue that UChicago’s poor performance on key new metrics has contributed to its fall from grace, those are inseparable from its recent identity crisis. Without centering its longstanding unique traits, UChicago will continue to hurtle towards numerical and academic mediocrity—or so the doomsdayers want you to believe.

As the University faces a crossroads, it should revisit its decision to “not alter how it operates” in light of the new rankings. However, rather than exclusively conforming to standards set by U.S. News and other ranking institutions, UChicago should embrace this opportunity to understand and implement overlaps between U.S. News guidelines and student and faculty suggestions. 

The rankings have exposed UChicago’s flaws and drawbacks, and it needs to address them. Rather than stand in the face of the rankings, UChicago should use the lack of support for first-generation students and the erosion of its distinct culture as the impetus it needs to embrace a healthier and more inclusive version of its unique life-of-the-mind identity.

Over the past 20 years, UChicago has made big changes to align itself more with other Ivy League and Ivy Plus schools. During that time, the College has nearly doubled in size, ballooning from 3,966 undergraduates in 2000 to 7,512 in 2022—an increase of 89 percent. In a 2018 interview with The Maroon, then dean of the College John Boyer said, “Over time, the size of the college will end up about the same size as Harvard. The class size for each incoming class will be moving towards 1,700 and that’s where we will plateau for each class to create a population of 7,000 undergraduates.”

This dramatic increase in class sizes and UChicago’s explicit interest in becoming more like the Ivy Plus schools puts the school’s unique life of the mind ideals at risk. On one hand, UChicago seems determined to maintain its foundation of academic curiosity through long-held traditions such as the Core Curriculum. On the other hand, UChicago is also taking steps to conform to the outside influences of other institutions, such as shifts to preprofessionalism and larger class sizes. 

This zeitgeist of preprofessionalism is relatively new in the history of the University. Almost a century after the creation of the Core, UChicago’s Career Advancement programs “Careers in ____” first began in 2005, helping students reach their professional goals post-graduation as well as signal a departure from the “Life of the Mind” values the Core symbolized. Though the Maroon Editorial Board has spoken at length on its issues with the Core, its existence is evident of what makes our school unique: our voracious academic curiosity and learning for learning’s sake. It is present in our traditions, like Scav or the Latke-Hamantash Debate, getting stronger each passing year. UChicago should draw on the strength of its past, not the insecurities of its present. 

Additionally, UChicago is facing supply and demand issues for courses in its quintessential pre-professional academic program, the economics major’s highly popular business economics track. The increase in the size of each incoming class without corresponding increases in faculty and course offerings has caused class sizes to skyrocket, to the detriment of students who came to UChicago because of its emphasis on small classes.

UChicago’s major drop can be attributed in large part by the addition of factors measuring first-generation students’ graduation rates and graduation rate performance, each of which were weighted at 2.5 percent of a school’s total ranking. 

Adjusting to college life as a first-generation student comes with additional challenges regardless of institution, but UChicago exacerbates it with a culture that espouses the life of the mind in theory but prizes the life of the grind in practice. Students will inevitably get lost and fall down in college; it’s up to the school and the students to help them find their way and get back up again instead of leaving them helpless on the carpet of the fifth floor stacks.

On a superficial level, the University was able to meet this student demand by shifting educational priorities to conform to the standards of other Ivy Plus universities. The University may be superficially meeting student demand on the preprofessionalism front, but it is not meeting student demand on the financial accessibility front. This is alarming, considering UChicago is one of the only schools that has fallen behind its peers in its dedication to supporting First Generation, Low Income (FGLI) students, and especially in light of race-based affirmative action’s end: Since 2011, there was a one-point percentage decrease in the share of first-years enrolled in the College who received Pell grants, subsidies the federal government provides to low-income college students. This decrease is especially notable given that every school in the Ivy League, with the exception of Brown, has experienced an increase in the share of first-years who receive Pell Grants. Looking on Career Advancement’s website for Post-College Outcomes, we see how it doesn’t necessarily collect outcomes on marginalized students (e.g. FGLI, Students of Color). Having these outcomes illustrated in certain statistics demonstrates where we need to improve leading to determine how we can improve where our flaws are. 

While we don’t want UChicago to succumb to every influence by outside institutions, we believe the University should take inspiration from peer institutions when it comes to improving financial accessibility.

So where does UChicago go from here? To reiterate, UChicago’s rankings faltered based on the U.S. News and World Report’s new first-generation factors, which primarily revolve around the post-graduation outcomes of UChicago’s underrepresented students, namely those hailing from first-generation or low-income backgrounds. To turn a blind eye to this aspect of the ranking process would be to turn a blind eye to some of UChicago’s most vulnerable students—those who are independently capable of succeeding, but often lack the advantages of college-educated parents, prior experience with professional networking, and so on. UChicago needs to implement more ways to hear and address the long-term concerns of not just underrepresented students, but students of all identities, such that students’ long-term outcomes can actually improve. For example, UChicago should introduce regular, Q&A-style town hall meetings to which students can come and express their concerns about how UChicago is (or isn’t) supporting their long-term success. 

Additionally, another clear step for the University is to make the move from focusing its attention outward to inward with its own students. Though rankings and outside perceptions do have an impact and influence on UChicago, making the steps forward to build a community that lives up to the ideals the University espouses is key and no one knows better how to make these moves than the people who keep UChicago alive: its own community. It is often said that honesty is the best policy, and UChicago hasn’t been very honest with us. Its lack of transparency on specific student outcomes, especially for marginalized students (e.g. FGLI, Students of Color), can’t help us move forward. In other words, if our outcomes in certain statistics are less than stellar, the administration does not need to be ashamed at showing that information. Showing these statistics demonstrates where our flaws are and how we can address them. 

UChicago’s faltering in the rankings may be a blow to our pride, but it also constitutes an important wake-up call for our administration and community. First and foremost, it’s a clear indicator that UChicago needs to do more to support its FGLI students—for all the university’s pointing to US News’ decision to discount class size, first-generation factors is the metric that accounts for most of the slip. However, the rankings also shine a light on UChicago’s growing pre-professional culture and associated imbalance between supply and demand for certain courses. Distinctive academics and diversity of thought, buttressed by its adherence to the Kalven Report, dictate how the university has shaped its image since its founding in 1891. Now, UChicago must determine how to best preserve this identity while continuing to meet the needs of students in a changing world.

Editor’s Note: A sentence in this editorial was adjusted for clarity.

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The Editorial Board publishes editorials that represent The Maroon's institutional voice. Seven to 10 voting-eligible members of The Maroon compose the Board. The editor-in-chief runs the editorial board, and the managing editor is required to be a member. Each member of the Board has equal voting power. No more than three members of the Editorial Board may dissent from a published editorial. If more than three members dissent, the editorial may not be published. Dissenters are entitled but not required to explain the reason(s) for their dissent at the end of the editorial. 

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  • S

    Stan / Feb 6, 2024 at 12:27 am

    It is amore of a US News issue. Defining the “best” university is intrinsically tied to the educational outcomes it delivers. For instance, when assessing academic excellence and research impact, Princeton University boasts a significantly higher ranking than the University of Chicago. However, a nuanced evaluation of the data, particularly concerning Nobel Prize winners, tells a different story. While Princeton has produced 17 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni, the University of Chicago surpasses with 36 laureates. Notably, Princeton, established in 1746, predates the University of Chicago (founded in 1890), yet the latter has a more pronounced track record in producing successful scientists and preeminent scholars. Surprisingly, this substantial gap in academic and research outcomes is not adequately reflected in the rankings provided by both US News’ college and global university assessments.

    The pivotal role that universities play in advancing new knowledge and technological discoveries should be considered in outcome assessments. While graduation rates are often cited, they may be less meaningful for top-tier universities where high admission standards make student graduation an expected outcome rather than a notable achievement. The admission process to elite institutions is assumed to be rigorous enough to ensure a high graduation rate, rendering it an insufficient metric for comparing universities such as Princeton, Yale, and others.

    These universities consistently emphasize their ability to attract top-tier talent and educate future global leaders and scholars. Therefore, the true measure of their success lies in the impact and influence of their graduates on the global stage. Evaluating the number of global leaders and top scholars produced should be a more meaningful criterion for assessing the superiority of universities like Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Yale, University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins.

    Reply
    • S

      stan / Feb 6, 2024 at 10:22 pm

      disclosure: I (Stan) am neither a Uchicago student nor a faculty member. I am a foreigner. English is not my native language.

      Reply
  • M

    MA / Feb 2, 2024 at 10:34 pm

    “Showing these statistics demonstrates where we need to improve leading to determine how we can improve where our flaws are.”

    Man. The writing is unbelievably bad.

    Reply
    • S

      Stan / Feb 6, 2024 at 10:19 pm

      I (stan) am not a Uchicago student or faculty member. I am a foreigner. English is not my mother language. I did use Chatgpt to check for my writing though. lol

      Reply