Columbia Loses A-Plus Status in U.S. News Rankings
Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll look at why Columbia University tumbled to No. 18 in the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. We’ll also look at what a congestion pricing plan in Manhattan could mean for air quality in the Bronx.
Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
For Columbia University, it’s like 1988 again. Except that then, tuition was $12,628 a year. It now tops $62,000 a year.
Columbia was downgraded to No. 18 from No. 2 in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings on Monday. The last time Columbia was No. 18 was in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president, Edward Koch was mayor and Michael Sovern was the president of Columbia. It jumped to No. 8 the following year.
College admissions officers steel themselves against a certain amount of exaggeration on students’ applications — more extracurricular activities, more debate tournament appearances or more school orchestra performances than any one student could possibly squeeze in. But what if a university puffed itself up and climbed almost to the top of the U.S. News rankings?
Michael Thaddeus, a Columbia math professor, asserted that his school had managed to do just that. He challenged Columbia’s No. 2 ranking with a statistical analysis that said that supporting data the school had provided was “inaccurate, dubious or highly misleading.” Thaddeus said he had found discrepancies when he compared the statistics from Columbia with data from publicly available sources.
Columbia originally defended its data, but said in July that it was withdrawing from the 2022-23 rankings. U.S. News, in turn, announced that it was taking Columbia out.
But U.S. News changed its mind and reinstated Columbia in the rankings, which it announced on Monday. It said it had assembled information about Columbia on its own, relying on outside sources. Columbia came in behind No. 17, Cornell, another prestigious Ivy League university, and ahead of No. 19, the University of Notre Dame, among national universities.
Last week Columbia acknowledged that it had made miscalculations on at least two measures that Thaddeus had questioned — class size and faculty with the highest degrees that can be awarded in a given field. Columbia, which at least partly blamed the “complexity” of the reporting requirements for the mistakes, said it had changed its methodology.
After the new rankings were announced on Monday, Thaddeus said he would not draw conclusions about the quality of a Columbia education from the rankings, whether Columbia was No. 2 or No. 18.
“The broader lesson everyone should keep in mind is that U.S. News has shown its operations are so shoddy that both of them are meaningless,” he told my colleague Anemona Hartocollis, who covers education. “If any institution can decline from No. 2 to No. 18 in a single year, it just discredits the whole ranking operation.”
U.S. News, which has been rating colleges since 1983 and likes to say that it is providing a consumer service, says that given the cost and importance of education, it’s ever more important that parents and students have some kind of guide.
“For most of these students and their families — other than buying a home — attending college is the most consequential investment they will ever make,” Eric Gertler, the chief executive of U.S. News, said in a statement.
The rankings are based on 17 criteria, including reputation (20 percent) and student selectivity (7 percent, of which SAT and ACT scores are weighted at 5 percent). Many critics are especially troubled by the reputation factor, based on a survey sent out to presidents and deans.
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Cleaner air in Manhattan, dirtier air in the Bronx?
How notorious is the Cross Bronx Expressway?
We could count the ways.
We could count the three long and often painful miles from Arthur Avenue to Zerega Avenue. They make up one of the most clogged corridors in the United States, according to Inrix, a traffic research company.
If we look at the proposed congestion pricing plan for New York City, we could count the additional trucks — 704 more every day, in addition to the 27,000 that already take the Cross Bronx.
We could count air pollution, starting with soot from truck traffic, which would jump by about 5 percent. Overall soot (which also comes from boilers in buildings, factories and other places) would increase by 1 percent, according to a New York Times analysis of M.T.A. data.
Or we could count the money that drivers would save by detouring through the Bronx and avoiding Manhattan below 60th Street, where the new tolls would apply — as much as $23 for cars, more for trucks.
Congestion pricing is intended to reduce the pollution and gridlock in Midtown and Lower Manhattan while raising money for public transportation. But as my colleague Ana Ley explains, the South Bronx could end up with dirtier air from traffic that now drives through Midtown on the way to places beyond the five boroughs.
The South Bronx is not the only place that would be affected. According to an environmental assessment released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, motorists avoiding the new tolls could add traffic and soot to parts of the Bronx, Staten Island, Nassau County on Long Island and Bergen County in New Jersey.
The M.T.A. board has yet to approve congestion pricing, though it is expected to pass it in some form; Gov. Kathy Hochul, who controls the board, is in favor of it. The M.T.A. is exploring options for how much the tolls should be. Officials say it also continues to study the environmental report and gather comments from the public.
The M.T.A. had enough concerns about the Bronx that it tinkered with the plan to consider a flat toll for all vehicles rather than a higher levy for heavy trucks, which are major sources of air pollution. The hope behind a flat toll is that it would send fewer trucks into the Bronx. But the benefits in the congestion zone in Manhattan would probably be reduced.
Supporters of congestion pricing say it will be an important element in the fight against climate change. They note that the M.T.A.’s research shows that significant reductions in pollution in Midtown would outweigh smaller increases around the Cross Bronx and other hot spots.
Along the Cross Bronx, residents say that even one more truck would be one too many. Earlene Wilkerson, 63, has lived near where the tangle of ramps around the Cross Bronx interchange with the Major Deegan Expressway for 40 years. She said she has asthma, as do her children, and she carries the memories of the year her eldest daughter spent in a hospital because she couldn’t breathe properly.
“They were out of school a lot,” Wilkerson said as she rested on a bus stop bench, too out of breath herself to walk to her fifth-floor apartment. “Now, the grandchildren are going through the same thing.”
Have the time?
I was on 125th Street and in a rush. I needed to know just how late I was running and didn’t have a watch. I saw a man who had one and asked if he had the time.
“What,” he said, “did we both buy this watch?”
Taken aback by his response, I stopped in my tracks. He stopped as well and stood there facing me.
“Because I remember buying this watch,” he said, “and I don’t remember you being there with half the money.”
Unable to maintain his composure, he let loose the laugh he had been holding back.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Someone said that to me once, and I thought it was the funniest thing I heard in my life. Just thought I’d share.”
He walked off laughing, leaving me with a new answer if anyone ever stopped me on the street with the same question.
— Patrick Cornbill
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Ashley Shannon Wu, Francis Mateo and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].