The late Bob Woodbury graced the pages of NEJHE a few years ago when the journal was called Connection with a thoughtful scolding of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings. The popular news magazine’s college rankings, Bob noted, encourage perverse practices by rewarding colleges for generating too many applications, rejecting high percentages of them, and ultimately making few real improvements in education.
If anything could be of more dubious value than a news magazine’s take on college effectiveness, how about a business magazine’s rankings of “livable” cities?
Forbes.com recently released its annual list of the nation’s most livable cities heavily laden with economic metrics such as low taxes (remember the source: tallier of the Forbes 400 richest Americans) and lightened by afterthoughts on arts and culture. To be fair, the Forbes list does point to one powerful prerequisite for a strong culture and strong economy that we’ve been talking about for decades: the presence of colleges.
Forbes compared the largest 200 Metropolitan Statistical Areas by levels of unemployment, crime, income growth, cost of living and artistic and cultural opportunities. The research showed that with the arrival of college students comes more employment opportunities, invigorated cultural scenes, increased security, an educated workforce and a happening nightlife.
Even Forbes readers seemed a bit unconvinced by the rankings. One commenter noted: “Pittsburgh seems to be plagued by a pervasive and significant one-note socially backward mentality that makes it not-so-livable for many a person … universities, hills, and low cost of housing aside.” The Wall Street Journal’s Carl Bialik in his blog column cited the flaws of these rankings as “bad data, misused numbers and lack of transparency.”