By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Someone at Forbes should have gone to Northeastern

I really should be working, but I can’t let this pass. Forbes has posted its rankings of colleges and universities, and Northeastern comes in at a very low 534th.

Dig a little deeper, as one of my former students, @rachelsarahsays, did, and you’ll see that one of the reasons for the poor ranking is Northeastern’s four-year graduation rate — zero percent.

Uh, Northeastern is a five-year school. Good work, Forbes! Or, as @rachelsarahsays puts it, “such horrific journalism.” Indeed.

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  1. Mark Walsh

    The most misleading statistic about colleges is four-year & two-year graduation rates. The majority of students, for varied reasons (work, family, a botched semester, switching majors, transferring to another school), do not complete their degree in four years. Yet, it is the one statistic that the college haters cling too when trying to convince the public about what a lousy job we’re doing.

  2. I’d also be interested to know how they get “zero percent” when there are certainly students who, though we are typically a five-year school, graduate in four years. Anyone know what exact numbers they used to calculate that percentage?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Danielle: You’re right — that can’t possibly be accurate, though the true four-year graduation rate is probably below 5 percent.

  3. LFNeilson

    Change it from Forbes (4 B’s) to one F.

  4. Aaron Read

    @Mark: Yeah, I thought everyone had switched over to 6-year graduation rates at this point. Very, very few “four year” schools have terribly respectable 4-year graduation rates anymore, kids just don’t usually make it that quickly. And it’s not so much that kids are getting dumber or anything…well, maybe a little…but rather that, in an increasing number of cases, for a lot of majors it is physically impossible to graduate in four years because of a combination of when classes are offered vs. what prerequisites they have vs. how many students are already shoved into the classes.

    And there’s more mundane reasons, too. It’s not unusual for students to come to college with little idea of what their final major will be, and many colleges encourage more experimentation and gradual growth towards picking a major. But that drastically increases the likelihood of needing more than four years to amass the necessary credits.

    @ Danielle: sharp eye, indeed! Methinks someone at the PR office of NEU needs to make a stern call to Forbes asking them to re-check their numbers. Possibly with a lawyer on the line with them. Smells like someone at Forbes KNEW that NEU was a five-year school and thus just assumed it was zero percent instead of actually checking the numbers. In other words, slander! 🙂

  5. Mike Benedict

    The Forbes rankings are only mildly consistent with any other list, so I’d take them with a grain of salt. Does anyone really believe Williams is the best college in the country? Name a single professor there, or just one piece of research its faculty or students have contributed.

    Also, tuition at all the military academies are listed as $0, even though that’s certainly not the case. If they get a bump in the rankings for that, then the rankings of any school that gives hefty scholarships (which is in effect what the academies are doing) should be improved a proportionate amount.

  6. Peter Kadzis

    The media strikes again. I have a hard time believing that Forbes would make such a mistake in calculating vital statistics for a publicly traded company. This isn’t an anti-Forbes comment. Rather it is an opportunity to cast doubt on so many of these college ranking issues that magazines publish. Sure they are popular. They must make money. But are they worth the paper they are printed on?

  7. Mike Benedict

    @Peter: They are to someone. Witness the many attempts by various colleges over the years to game the system.

  8. Mike Stucka

    Ah, this all seems so familiar: Macon’s placing in Forbes’ report on poverty in America hard to quantify

    Some poor statistician helped me figure out the MOEs from a ratio of two numbers that each had their own MOEs. That got this paragraph:
    Those margins can dramatically change how the Macon area fares when compared with other communities. A Telegraph analysis suggests that within the margins of error, the Macon area’s food stamp rate could be the nation’s 18th worst, or the 184th worst, of about 500 American cities. In other words, Macon was near the bottom of the barrel — or not far from the middle.

    Or, in other words, some of the Forbes statistical efforts are pretty damned quick hits with huge margins of error.

  9. Mike Stucka

    And this is maybe where Forbes got the number.

    4-year graduation rate given as 1%. Longer-term graduation rates from 66% to 75%.

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