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The rankings that matter

By Judy Hagey

Quick. What do the Princeton Review, Peterson’s, Money Magazine, and Barons all have in common? If you don’t work in education or have a child approaching college age you can be excused for not knowing that these are just a few of the publications and organizations that provide annual rankings of America’s colleges and universities. Intended to be a helpful guide for parents and students selecting the right college, the growing number of rankings is nearly as overwhelming as the number of colleges vying for students’ attention. As the number of rankings grows, so too does the public’s skepticism regarding their methodology and validity as well as their usefulness.

Judy Hagey

Judy Hagey

Regardless of the process, it is nearly impossible to quantify the quality of education. Judging an institution by the size of its endowment, its student-faculty ratio, or even the cost of tuition fails to get at the measurements that really matter. The outcomes.

Colleges are mission-driven institutions. Each has a unique reason for existing. They ought to be evaluated then on how successfully they are achieving their mission. Dordt’s stated mission is to equip students, alumni, and the broader community to work effectively toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. We ought to be evaluated by our success in fulfilling that mission.

Easier said than done, but let me suggest some ways we might be evaluated. We ought to ask: Do students and alumni understand and embrace the mission? Do graduates continue to live out the mission when they leave here? Are they making a difference in their corner of the world?

During the last accreditation process one of the external evaluators observed, “Your faculty, students, and staff all know why they are here and can articulate it.” Quantifiable evidence that we’re fulfilling our mission? No. But certainly a strong indication that this community knows why it’s here and what our work is all about.

In recent weeks we have begun the process of selecting the next Distinguished Alumnus/a. That includes behind-the-scenes investigation to determine how effectively graduates continue to live out Dordt’s mission. Time and again I have heard testimonies from co-workers, church members, and colleagues of persons who “bring light to a dark place,” “practice his/her faith in difficult circumstances,” and are “quiet servants.” More evidence that the rankings that really matter can’t be measured. But they are priceless.