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Editorial: The Princeton Review party ranking worthless

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa’s infamous ranking as the No. 1 party school has dropped. The Princeton Review’s survey — perhaps the only service you’ll remember the company for unless you’re shelling out a couple thousand dollars for it to tutor you on how to take the MCAT — ranks Iowa a whopping single spot lower than last year. We feel that this mildly reflects the university’s efforts to reduce levels of dangerous drinking among its students, but considering the method in which the company surveys students, as well as its BuzzFeed-esque list-appeal feel, this correlation should be taken with a grain of salt the size of an LSAT prep book.

The company has faced widespread criticism from a number of sources, not just those defending the UI. One of the biggest issues addressed is that the survey seems wildly incomplete, baiting an arguably too-small pool of surveyed students into answering a majority of questions relating to alcohol and drug use and greek life, offering little to no opportunities to alter the results based on actual school academics besides asking how many hours a student studies outside of class.

It’s also worth noting that students are asked to evaluate themselves, which — as most introductory-level research-methods courses explain — often produces flawed results based on the survey taker’s self-perception.

To be fair, the survey is fairly contained, and its findings are comparatively accurate. The UI certainly does have a high level of dangerous drinking compared with other schools despite its efforts to reduce the extreme use of substances by students. The bigger problem lies in the sick, giddy joy that readers find in overly simplistic lists.

Negative information becomes especially popular if it’s presented in an embedded slide show, a useful psychological method companies employ thanks to constant page refreshing and the ad revenue it brings. Easily understood lists are also appealing and simple to talk about. You might recall the field day Jimmy Kimmel’s show had slamming the UI when it took first place last year. 

It doesn’t take a genius statistician to recognize that all colleges have their strengths and weaknesses and that it’s almost completely up to the users to decide where they stand during their time with higher learning. A semester or two will provide enough evidence for students to make that decision.

A simple analogy explains this well enough:

Imagine you’re going to a hardware store (a college or university) to buy a washing machine (an education). You notice a candy display (partying, drinking, etc.). You could decide to spend all your money on candy; you could stay firm in buying only the washing machine, and you could find a way to afford both.

If the comparison was too much for you to digest, you probably place a lot of belief in the Princeton Review’s survey. College is what a young adult chooses to make it, and a few bad apples — even thousands of bad apples — don’t actually spoil what the UI has accomplished academically and creatively despite the notoriety the survey receives. It’s worth mentioning our Big Ten sibling (and engineering powerhouse), Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, placed fifth on this year’s list. 

The UI has been promoting the many top-tier ranked programs it offers via Facebook, and as The Daily Iowan reported Monday, the university seems to be taking small — albeit very healthy — steps away from treating the Princeton Review’s survey as a real measure of success. We agree completely, at least while websites such as BroBible.com conduct party-school studies that seem about as accurate.


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