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Guest Editorial: The validity of party school rankings should be discredited

BY GUEST OPINION | AUGUST 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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Numerous news sources, The Daily Iowan included, reported on the newest edition of this publication, which bases the rankings on student surveys and responses.

I am certainly bothered by Iowa’s continued appearance on this list, but that is not the thing that upset me the most. It was that the annual rankings in the Princeton Review are treated as definitive, as though it is possible to rank schools in a category as abstract as “partying.”

The party-school ranking is determined by answers to five questions. Only one of them provides a concrete answer: the number of hours spent studying outside of class. The other four questions are related to the perceived popularity of beer, liquor, fraternities and sororities, and sports on campus.

As opposed to the first question, in which students provide the average amount of time they study during the week, the other categories require students to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how popular they believe these things to be.

Similar issues exist about the methodology and findings in the popularity of greek life. The question does not ask students to consider how many individuals are in fraternities and sororities, which more accurately reflects the prevalence of the organizations on a campus, but instead asks for an opinion about their popularity. Looking at the Princeton Review’s list of most heavily greek schools, the five colleges ranked directly below Iowa (with approximately 15 percent of undergraduates involved in greek life) have greek populations ranging from 16 percent to 53 percent. Despite these statistics, the UI was rated at No. 12 on this list.

Beyond not using objective facts, there is also some question on why these are included when computing a party-school ranking. Meanwhile, fraternities and sororities are not a source of negative events on every campus. At Iowa, active greek members must participate in philanthropy; in 2014, fraternities and sororities combined to provide more than 20 percent of the money raised for Dance Marathon. Academically, in the spring of 2014, greek students at Iowa averaged a GPA of more than 3.0, higher than the average GPA of non-greek students.

It is troubling to note that, on average, the Princeton Review receives survey results from 358 students per school. Only once every three years does the publication officially reach out to a wide variety of students from differing demographics. During the two years in between, students can voluntarily seek out and submit a survey, and the specific demographics as well as sample size are not published. This makes the results of the surveys and rankings unreliable as a true picture of a campus.

There can be no denying that the party-school rankings of the Princeton Review are ultimately subjective. Rankings will be made on perception, not facts or statistics or definitive information.

Those who report on the list as evidence that Iowa students’ drinking habits are unchanged, or that efforts made to decrease partying on campus have failed, are mistaken. Those who treat this story as news do not see the list’s ignorance of reporting facts over personal opinions. Furthermore, those who continue to put stock into the validity of the party-school ranking mistake subjectivity for objectivity.

The UI was named the No. 2 party school by the Princeton Review. I take exception to that ranking.

— Chris Dockum


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