The National Research Council (NRC) and US News & World Report have both attempted to rank graduate programs in the United States, yet these rankings are discredited over and over by experts in higher education and by statisticians. The voices of these experts are rarely heard because, as it turns out, people like lists and simple answers. Believing in these rankings, however, is a huge mistake for future graduate students in any discipline. It’s seductive but mistaken to assume that university rankings are put together by specially qualified, sophisticated thinkers who have found the magic formula for simplifying the enormous complexity of comparing all graduate program for all people. It’s crucial to approach “rankings” as dumbed-down simplifications without a meaningful hierarchy. This is especially so for future graduates in Hispanic literature and linguistics because the subdisciplines are so specialized and they are not rigorously investigated for the purposes of ranking. University rankings sell magazines and get enormous attention, but they have virtually nothing to do with the factors that determine graduate student success and well-being, as described below. Four rankings to avoid:
(1) The National Research Council
Conclusion: Irrelevant, especially for Hispanic linguistics
The National Research Council (NRC) attempted to rank university programs based on data collected in 2006, with minor revisions over the following three (3) years as complaints surfaced. Essentially, the NRC rankings are a historical look at the configuration of departments in 2006, and they are completely irrelevant to what you’ll find in 2018. As professors appear and disappear, and funding appears and disappears, departments can change dramatically. If one productive professor leaves, the quality of the program they leave behind is very likely to decline, along with its value to you as a graduate student. The presence or absence of specific professors also changes student-level variables used by the NRC to rank programs, like time to degree and whether graduates were placed in academic jobs after graduating. Keep in mind that great professors are more than productive scholars, they are also excellent mentors who guide their graduate students through the completion of degrees more quickly, and they help their graduates find good jobs after they graduate.
Between 2006, when the NRC collected their data, and 2018, Spanish departments have changed, from who is there to the roles they play. Also, if you are interested in Hispanic Linguistics, note that the NRC lumps literature and linguistics together, meaning the rankings would not have been relevant to you even in 2009-2010 when the NRC rankings were released. In many cases, Spanish departments have a lot of literature professors and a handful, or perhaps one or two linguistics professors, if any at all. Some highly visible universities have failed to implement Spanish linguistics graduate programs, even while the demand for Spanish linguistics scholars is overtaking the demand for Spanish literature scholars. Change is slow, especially in academia. Several websites display the old, now irrelevant NRC data, but, again, the rankings that are generated are irrelevant to a student looking for the best graduate program in 2018. It’s a historical snapshot. If you like history and you’re curious how the NRC went about ranking universities using data from 2006, you can check it out here: The National Research Council
(2) US News & World Report
Conclusion: Marketing ploy
The yearly US News & World Report’s ranking of best colleges and graduate schools is perhaps the best-known attempt at ranking higher education programs. Colleges and universities care about these rankings because they think students and donors will care. Yet the methodology for the social sciences and humanities has an enormous flaw:
“Rankings of doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities are based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to academics in each discipline.”
– US News & World Report, Grad Schools, Methodology
What does this mean? It means that the rankings authoritatively displayed by the US News & World Report on their website and in their magazines are simply popularity contests with no attention paid to the majority of metrics that matter to graduate students, like time to degree, research and publishing productivity of faculty, graduate student funding, mentoring, networking opportunities and support, or how successful previous graduates have been in landing a good job. The metrics ignored by US News & World Report are actually the most important. It’s like ranking your favorite singers, then giving that ranking to a stranger expecting that they will agree. Unfortunately, many students seeking the best graduate school don’t even know that they should be questioning the US News & World Report’s rankings of social sciences and humanities programs.
US News & World Report rankings do not include Hispanic Linguistics, nor Spanish language and literature. Discussing their ranking methodology here is meant to underscore the need to do your own research.
The Internet is loaded with articles against the fiction of university rankings. One example is the 2016 Op-Ed, Why College Rankings Are a Joke from the New York Times.
(3) Forbes College Rankings
Conclusion: Another marketing ploy
Forbes magazine attempts to rank “America’s Top Colleges” focusing on undergraduate programs, but it’s included here to underscore how ranking college programs is truly lost on publishers. Twenty-five (25%) of the ranking scores are based on student comments on RateMyProfessors.com, and another 25% comes from a Who’s Who alumni listing, both of which are stunning departures from what matters. These are popularity contests run amok, but they get a lot of attention and sell magazines.
(4) Search Engine Results as a Kind of Ranking
Conclusion: It is not a ranking
The order in which university programs appear in search engine results is NOT a kind of ranking relevant to finding a graduate program in any discipline. The search engine results can be manipulated by very smart computer science engineers and others who work at the university that appears high in the rankings. For example, some universities have savvy search engine optimization experts. Go search and voilà, you find these universities ranking unusually high in Google for search phrases like “Spanish linguistics program” and “Spanish literature graduate program”. Clearly, Google and others do not want their search results to be unfairly biased in favor of any particular entity, and they are in a constant battle against those who attempt to gain visibility by figuring out how to manipulate web page code, content, and linking schemes to send the “right signals” to search bots in order to artificially gain more visibility. Given that search engine algorithms are (unfortunately) manipulable if savvy folks who are behind the website ranking highly, the search results cannot be relied upon as a type of university program ranking. Use the unbiased, unranked list of universities available on this site, Hispanic Literature list OR Hispanic Linguistics list OR Translation and Interpreting list and review the points below.
Personally Ranking Master’s and PhD Programs in Spanish / Hispanic Literature & Linguistics
It’s very smart to create your own ranking of departments based on personal preferences. Would you live in New York City? Is Florida just right? Weigh considerations that will be crucial to your success. Three factors that determine your success are:
- How well you will survive financially
- Your interest in the research emphasis of the department
- Who the professors are (publishing record, success in mentoring graduate students and seeing them through the employment stage, etc.)
The NRC, the US News & World Report, and search engine results will not help you figure these things out. Here’s what you can do:
- Use the unranked list of universities available here: Hispanic Literature, Hispanic Linguistics, and Translation and Interpreting
- Visit each department’s website, and carefully go through the professors’ profiles to see if you’re interested in their work.
- Go through the graduate student profiles to see if your interests align with theirs.
- Find information on financial support for your specific case, and how expensive it is to live in the surrounding area. Also, do you want to live there?
- Contact people in the department to get your questions answered. One important contact is the department’s graduate secretary. They know the ins and outs of the department, and it’s their job to orient you and put you in contact with those who can answer your questions if they can’t answer your questions personally.