College rankings don’t tell the whole story for Columbia students

By Lauren Leazenby, News Editor

Columbia ranked #8 most innovative in Midwest

Vicki Lei

When junior photography major Brandon Filas was looking to transfer from Elgin Community College, he said was searching for a program that would allow him to grow as an artist. Filas did not want to move too far from home and was looking at schools that offered sizable scholarships.

“Trying to figure out a combination of those three is how I made my decision,” he said.

Now in his first semester at Columbia, Filas said one aspect that did not factor into his decision was college rankings.

Based on advancements in technology, curriculum and campus life, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Columbia as the No. 8 most innovative among regional universities in the Midwest for 2021—but for some students who end up choosing Columbia, that number on a list does not matter much.

“Just going off of a ranking can be a detriment,” Filas said. “It can put you in a position where you aren’t in a program that best suits your needs.”

In the larger list of top regional universities in the Midwest overall, Columbia ranks 103 out of 157 schools. According to U.S. News and World Report, 22% of a college’s ranking score comes down to a six-year graduation rate. The six-year graduation rate for students starting in Fall 2013 at Columbia is 50%.

Derek Brinkley, assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions, said most current and prospective students do not pay attention to rankings like these. Rankings are a bigger deal for international students looking at colleges in the U.S. and parents of prospective students, he said.

Brinkley said ranking as a top innovative college in the region symbolizes progress and highlights the commitment of faculty, staff and administrators to provide students with a quality educational product.

“It just shows that Columbia is really doing the work in order to be the best institution that we can be,” he said. “[Rankings] are a nice reflection of the work that they’ve been doing.”

Jordan Dawson, a freshman creative writing major, said Columbia is one of the more innovative schools she considered in her college search. Dawson’s reasons for ultimately picking Columbia included the hands-on nature of the curriculum, small class sizes and the significant portion of the faculty currently working in their fields.

Dawson said the rankings she saw during her college search did not sway her decision, but she remembers coming across many program-specific rankings that tell a different tale compared to Columbia’s regional or nationwide overall rankings.

On the Hollywood Reporter’s list of top American film schools in 2020, for instance, Columbia was ranked No. 14, ahead of DePaul University, which is ranked No. 24. The college also has the top comedy program in the country—beating the University of California, Los Angeles and Harvard University—according to College Magazine.

Program rankings like these are more useful to prospective students, Brinkley said. Appearing on these lists can also bring in students who are interested in specific programs but have never heard of Columbia.

But, even these should not sway a prospective student’s choice, Brinkley said. In the admissions office, he said counselors don’t tend to push rankings as a reason to attend Columbia. Instead, he said they focus on whether a program—including the curriculum and faculty—will be the “right fit” for an individual student.

“I always just try to warn parents and families when I’m talking to them that rankings are not the end-all be-all in any way, shape or form,” he said. “These rankings are just icing on the cake for what it is that we’re doing in our process.”