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Talk:Touring prestigious universities in the U.S.

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Revision as of 08:52, 23 February 2012 by CrazyPaco (Talk | contribs)

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Is there an intended order within regions? Serving the traveler might mean listing in linear geographical order. Almost seems set up by perceived prestige at this point. OldPine 14:27, 27 May 2007 (EDT)

Is there a standard for famous?

Seems to me that this will soon deteriorate to every university in the US. It already seems to be headed that way. Unless we can come up with a standard. For example, the university has to be an ivy league university, a seven sisters college, on the top ten list of (say) US News and World Report for Engineering (how else would Stanford and MIT make the grade!).--Wandering 17:52, 11 July 2007 (EDT)

My thoughts exactly. OldPine 18:06, 11 July 2007 (EDT)
I say we list the universities in order of how many Nobel Prizes they've garnered... --Peter Talk 18:35, 11 July 2007 (EDT)
Um, no. Famous != "prestigious" or "Ivy". Famous is "widely known", and this could include big sports schools or decently known state schools. Also, major research institutions. 02:35, 20 January 2008 (EST)
It's already degenerating. No mention of Cornell, Dartmouth, or Johns Hopkins on the East Coast, no mention of Caltech on the West Coast, no mention of Vanderbilt in the South, and nothing about Washington University in St. Louis? Huh? Oh, but there is an article on St. Louis University. And an article on Michigan State --- which isn't what I'd call 'famous' in any way. I suppose the problem is in distinguishing "famous" from "academically rigorous" (i.e. top-tier research university). 17:29, 10 September 2007 (EDT)

Objective measure for inclusion

This article should exist, but has been degenerating and will continue to degenerate as long as we lack an objective measure. I've tried my best to come up with an objective measure of university fame, and here's a spreadsheet showing the criteria, scoring, and weighting I used to rank universities by "fame." By necessity, this ranking is a bit complex in order to avoid being arbitrary and unfair.


  1. Nobel affiliations
  2. 07-08 US News Rankings: Top National Universities
  3. 07-08 US News Rankings: Top Liberal Arts Colleges
  4. Size (undergraduate + graduate enrollment)
  5. Age (year established)

I think Nobel affiliations are a good measure of research prestige (really good research --> nobel prizes), rankings a good measure of educational prestige. Size impacts influence and fame obviously, as does age—the older the university, the longer it has had to make itself known, and simply being old can be notable in and of itself.

I weighted the scores by criteria accordingly: 1) research prestige (score: 0-1)x5, 2) educational prestige for national universities (score: 0-1)x5, 3) educational prestige for liberal arts colleges (score: 0-1)x3, 4) size (score: 0-1)x1, 5) age (score: 0-3.64)x1. I figured that research and educational prestige should receive disproportionate weight, since they are the most important measures of fame. I didn't want size to have much weight, because that would lead to not-so-famous schools that happen to have gigantic enrollment (e.g., Arizona State) would be ranked as disproportionately famous. But size should count against the small liberal arts colleges, which are not nearly as famous as their educational prestige might lead one to believe simply because they are so small—I therefore reduced the weight allocated to educational prestige rankings for small liberal arts colleges from 5 to 3, simply to offset the light weight given to size scores. Lastly, I gave a light weight to age, simply because the range was greater than for any other score, allowing it to have noticeable impact without weighting. The precise scoring methods are available through the spreadsheet.

Given the score outputs from this measure, I think an overall score of 5 or better would make a good measure for inclusion in the article. So the cutoff would be at Amherst College. If you don't feel like downloading the xls document, of the universities I measured, the following would be allowable in the article: Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago, MIT, Yale, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Stanford, U Penn, Cornell, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, Washington University in St Louis, Duke, NYU, U Michigan, Brown, Dartmouth, William & Mary, UNC Chapel Hill, U Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgetown, UVA, UCLA, U Wisconsin-Madison, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Rice, Tufts, USC, Williams, Amherst.

I'm curious if anyone a) understands what the heck I'm talking about and b) thinks this is a good way to objectively delimit which universities can be included in this article. I'm also curious if people have any other suggestions for criteria in determining fame. I left out a lot (like endowments) because a lot of criteria are already included in the criteria used by the US News-World Report rankings.

If anyone would like me to run another university through the measure to see if it makes the grade, please just let me know.

Well, should we use this? --Peter Talk 00:18, 8 March 2008 (EST)

I should add, I did not include sports prowess as a criterion, because I think visiting universities for sports-related events is beyond the scope of this article—that seems to me to be something different from "touring famous universities." I think university-sports-travel is a separate topic that could support a separate article. Sports acclaim does affect fame, but I just don't think that is what this article was set up to cover. Moreover, the article already suffers from subject creep, so it won't hurt to make this delimitation. I also did not include the recently added criterion of "massacre infamy," as I seriously doubt that there is any significant "school massacre tourism." --Peter Talk 03:40, 10 March 2008 (EDT)
I ran the last several universities already listed in the article through. Here's a quick list of the ones that passed (score=5+) and those that did not:
5+: Harvard, Columbia, U Chicago, MIT, Yale, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Stanford, U Penn, Duke, NYU, U Michigan, Brown, Dartmouth, UNC Chapel Hill, Georgetown, UVA, Emory, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Rice, & Rutgers
<5: U Delaware, UC San Diego, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, St Louis U, Georgia Institute of Tech, Virginia Tech, UT Austin
I think those results are pretty good, from my own subjective standpoint. So, if there are no reasoned objections to using this measure, I'll remove the schools that scored below 5 from the article in about 2 weeks. --Peter Talk 03:40, 10 March 2008 (EDT)
OK, no one has joined in this academic exercise yet, but I've waited and now plunged to reorganize the article according to the objective measure explained above. If anyone would like to help refine the measure, please let me know here.
I also added a "get around" section in part to condense the unwieldy university descriptions, but also to better organize that content, so visitors have a quick overview of how to visit all the listed schools in one trip. I think that this should basically be a "list of pointers," since university descriptions & landmarks (and detailed get in information) are all already available in their respective city articles, and this info should not be duplicated here. --Peter Talk 09:37, 24 March 2008 (EDT)
Actually, like most rankings, your method has some serious flaws, inherent in the fact that non-objective POV is determining methodology for determining a criteria that is being billed as objective. First of which, your ranking has turned the article from travel guide of "famous" universities, into a ranking of universities. And that ranking is considerably less accepted and less researched than previously existing and widely published ranking methodologies. Notably, neither the article nor ranking take into account any consideration of the value of a visit or tour of the school, which after all, is a main point of a travel wiki, e.g. is there actually anything interesting to see? For example, see [1], but trying to quantify that list has its own inherent issues. However, this criteria could be added, for instance, by adding the number of things on the National Historic Registry (perhaps #NHR/10). After all, how can the value or a visit to a school be measured in terms of student population or even US News ranking? For instance, UVA and William & Mary should be on the list by the criteria of their historic campuses, whether or not they have the academics of the University of Phoenix (which, btw, by your method finishes ahead of Ohio State and Case Western). For that matter, Annapolis and West Point, which both dramatically fail your criteria because of a lack of research and size, should be included in a travel wiki of famous universities. Not including them is almost criminal, and exemplifies the serious flaws in the methodology. That said, what exactly is there to see at NYU (other than NYC in general)? In any case, weighting against Liberal Arts colleges (of which category the service academies fall) seems entirely POV and improper, and is not at all objective reasoning.
As far as the included ranking criteria, being in biological research here at Penn, I can tell you that solely using Nobel prize winners as a measure of research quality is extremely lacking. It is horribly narrow view of research that contains several biases. A better criteria would be publication impact factor, which may be difficult to compile for all of these institutions, or perhaps easier, NSF (federally funded) research dollars that are awarded based on a stringent peer review process (currently ~10% of grant submissions). Federal research award dollars are a major component of how most rankings factor in research prowess (see The Center for Measuring University Performance[2]).
Another issue, for some reason this article seems aimed at foreign visitors, but your criteria uses US-centric, and highly controversial, US News rankings. International world rankings, such as Shanghai Jiao Tong's Univeristy's Academic Ranking of World Universities [3] and US News/The Times Higher-QS World University Rankings [4] seem like better candidates based on how the article's intro is slanted. These give a more global perspective to the fame of US institutions (and include research). Perhaps a compilation of multiple rankings, US News, The Center, Shanghai, is warranted. Rankings are tricky though, as they sometimes fluctuate wildly from year-to-year, and as you currently have your criteria configured, moving just a few slots will cause schools to fall above or below your cut off.
In any case, deciding the cutoff at 5 seems entirely arbitrary. Why not 4, 4.5, or 5.5, or 6. Was 5 just pulled out of thin air? How do you justify such a thing? Fame is subjective, and may not have anything to do with any of the criteria you list. For sure all of the Ivies would be considered famous, but Rutgers is hardly more famous than Ohio State. Fame certainly doesn't seem to have much to do with size. For instance Princeton is tiny and among the most famous universities in the world. Likewise the best-known (dare I say famous) very large schools, Ohio State, Texas, and Penn State all fail to make the cut by your criteria. So the answer, IMO, is that size really doesn't matter, and that is why you don't find size criteria in any existing rankings. Age is also meaningless for fame, as well as academics, but may make a university more interesting from a historical perspective, so I tend to buy that a little more for a travel wiki. For a domestic tourist, athletics has an immense impact on school fame, and there is no getting around this. Athletics in the US are the most prominent face of any institution outside the Ivy League. Every BCS school should get bonus points, with bowl participants and NCAA tournament participants getting points as well. There seems to be a lack of common sense in the criteria selection.
As an aside, it seems as though the East Coast section really probably needs to be split into New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.
In the end, the title of the article is "famous universities" not "top ranked universities". Outside of some obvious choices (Harvard, Yale, Princeton & Stanford), fame is nearly impossible to quantify, and as mentioned previously, most definitely would require the inclusion of West Point and Annapolis if you would go beyond those four. It seems the article as is should be named "tour of top ranked universities" and perhaps switched to use an established and published ranking system, or some compilation of such. Otherwise, it may be necessary to accept entries that seem to justify their inclusion and notability in their short description that make clear common sense for them to be included in a travel guide.CrazyPaco 07:19, 13 May 2009 (EDT)

This is a bit of a kitchen sink critique, so I'll try to break it down to make the discussion clearer.

1) Re: objectivity. All objective measures will have subjectivity in the choosing of the measure. In this case, there is a POV, and there should be (we encourage POV on Wikitravel—that of the traveler, unlike Wikipedia). In this case, the precise POV is that of foreign visitors to the United States, interested in touring the country's famous universities. I thought it rather obvious that these tours would be for the purpose of determining which schools to apply to, rather than admiring the school's architecture, but perhaps this should be more clearly stated in the introduction. Information about the sights a school has to offer belong only in the destination guides, otherwise we will have overlap. (I see you have done some very good work in the Pittsburgh articles on precisely this topic.) Avoiding overlap is the main reasons that travel topics are viewed with suspicion on Wikitravel.

The purpose of touring universities for admissions purposes is not obvious. Currently the heading reads "especially those with pre-college-age children". The article heading clearly does not define the article as restricted to those schools that would be most relevant for admission tours. I would venture that most foreign visitors are not touring universities for their children's admission visits. Schools like Princeton offer popular tours for visitors that are separate from those for candidates, and are often filled with foreign tourists. In any case, the assumption that foreign candidates are only interested in, or are viable candidates for, the 35 schools listed in the article is without merit. The title of the article indicates fame is what draws the tourists, and therefore the sites, history, and architecture would be highly relevant. As far as architecture being criteria creep, I am at least not alone in thinking it has something to do with fame [5]. However, the linked list is just as arbitrarily derived as your ranking.
Perhaps this topic is rightly viewed with suspicion.

The goal of an objective measure is to reduce as much as possible the subjective selection of schools. This was a major problem, referred to in the above thread, before the introduction of the method in this thread, as university students and alumnae are often fierce partisans and promoters of their own schools, and want their schools included as "famous" in this article.

This is what happens with an ambiguous concept like "fame". It therefore should not be a surprise that inventing a fame ranking is not without controversy.

2) The notion that these criteria have turned the article into a ranking of schools is silly. The actual hierarchical rank of these individual universities per the measure are irrelevant in the selection, and any rankings are not even referred to in the article.

Inclusion of a school this article depends solely on the hierarchical ranking that you devised. Whether you have the actual rank besides each school is irrelevant. You have essentially created a Top 35 list. It is actually a detriment to the article that your methodology for inclusion is not listed because it thereby incorrectly connotes the idea that it is a widely accepted standard list of the most "famous" colleges, which it certainly is not, except at the very top of the rank.

3) West Point and Annapolis are extremely unlikely choices for foreign visitors, for obvious reasons.

No, they are tourist magnets and define the concept of "famous".

4) The Nobel prize criterion is not to measure schools by research quality, it is meant to measure them by fame, particularly international fame.

As far as the use of Nobel Prizes, my issues beyond what was previous addressed, and now trying to stay within the concept of "fame", is that it is also extremely narrow and limited in that it accounts for only 6 fields. Thus this criteria ignores the top awards in dozens, if not hundreds, of other disciplines found under a particular university's umbrella. It unduly weighs a school's "fame" based on Nobel categories. A better metric would be the number of faculty awards which is easily derived from The Center's rankings.

5) The idea of creating a composite of US News' rankings + those of international rankings. I'd be interested to see a proposal on this measure. I think the US News rankings should be weighted pretty heavily, though, as they are so widely consulted (like it or not).

One criteria I would agree with for defining "fame" is the use of existing rankings, and I agree with you, they are highly popular reading in the US. However, if the article is geared toward foreigners, as you state, it also seems silly to rely solely on a US-centric ranking, rather than at least combining it with, for example, the Times QS and/or others.

6) Re: #5. I take it you are rather unfamiliar with social science methodology. It is desirable to select an arbitrary number, to reduce bias in determining the results. As the majority of schools fell under a "score" of ten, the midpoint seemed like a decent arbitrary number. Cherry picking a less arbitrary number like, say 4.75, would reek of bias, and the desire to include a specific university.

You are right, I'm not familiar with the social sciences. I'm in a field where you are highly scrutinized for using arbitrary numbers or quantifying "anything", so you'll have to forgive me because I've been trained to be highly dubious of such things, and rightfully so. You previously did not indicate your criteria for selecting "5" for your threshold other than to say it seemed appropriate "given the score outputs from this measure". I don't care what field you are in, you learn as early as high school statistics that examining the outputs of your statistical comparisons to retroactively determine the threshold of significance is the definition of bias. A percentile threshold, or even a cutoff for the number of schools to include, selected prior to evaluating of the output, is a much more convincing way to avoid the appearance of bias than selecting 5 out of what you have listed as a maximum score of 14.64.

7) Re: size. Princeton, despite its small size, scores at the top of the list. Swarthmore, a school of outstanding academic quality, does not. This seems fair to me—I don't at all think that many foreign applicants are familiar with the latter, whereas they almost certainly know the former. Regarding large public schools, plenty of large public schools are included per the measure, and I do think they are more famous than the ones you cite. (Speaking of which, Penn passed the bar easily, and was always included in the list.)

I would highly doubt Swarthmore is less internationally famous than Williams. I disagree with your assessment about the fame of some of the included vs non-included schools.

8) Re: sports. Your statement makes this clear; the article was made for foreign visitors. It does not seem this way, it is stated very clearly at the top of the article, and afaik, it has always been that way. Excluding this, as I say above, is also useful to prevent subject creep, which is an obvious slippery slope. (This applies to your architecture idea too.)

You assume that athletics has no impact on fame outside the US. It certainly has a major impact within the US, which I would imagine would have some influence over its fame outside of the US, especially Canada, Mexico, and other countries in the Caribbean that are highly saturated by US Sports. It is only your speculation that athletics are not relevant to fame, which is no more valid than my speculation that they are.

9) Re: split. Whole-heartedly agree.

10) Re: impossibility of quantification. This is silly as well, and I presume you have no experience in the social sciences. Anything can be quantified, and should be when it's useful to do so. The criteria above, size, length of history, Nobel prize affiliations, college rankings (which yes, are in themselves dumb, but are widely consulted for college visits), all seem to me to have rather obvious connection to fame, and all of which have been quantified without my help.

You can quantify anything, but it doesn't mean that it is accurate or good. As is, this article is a guide to universities that have obtained your criteria for "fame" which you defined by achieving an arbitrary threshold in a ranking based on a compilation of age, size, US News Rank, and Nobel affiliations. These criteria in your ranking, except maybe for size, may be justified for determining prestige. However, they are hardly more appropriate indices of fame than popularity or pervasiveness in the media? Are you really going to suggest age and size is more relevant to fame than popularity or media exposure? There was no groundwork done to determine if any of your criteria actually correlates to fame. Thus I see no justification, other than your opinion which is no more valid than any other, for the use of most of your existing criteria as indices of fame . Therefore, your invented ranking's relationship with fame is highly questionable, if not down right absent. Your criteria are arbitrary selections based on your POV, which this wiki allows, but is hardly conducive to consensus building.

Lastly, please refrain from making further changes along the lines of the ones you have been. We operate by Wikitravel:Consensus (please pay especial attention to "status quo bias.") Per policy, we'll need to hash this out and come to a new consensus if we are going to move forward, otherwise we stay where we were. Simply charging ahead, removing the commented in-article disclaimer, and adding universities that you know do not meet the established criteria was inappropriate. --Peter Talk 03:21, 17 May 2009 (EDT)

The main problem is that this article is titled to be about "Famous" universities and the theme of fame was obviously central to its original concept. The opening paragraph was later change to define "fame" as equivalent to "prestige". "Famous" and "Prestigious" do not have the same meaning, and either the article title or content needs to be changed to obtain consistency. Currently your ranking criteria, and thus the article's content, is much more appropriate for "prestige".
Finally, if the objective of the article, as you have stated, is to aid foreign visitors in touring the "most prestigious" schools, then the article title should reflect that. It currently does not. I suggest moving this article to "Touring prestigious universities in the U.S.", and if that occurred, I think most of my discomfort with the article would go away. CrazyPaco 08:37, 31 May 2009 (EDT)
I'd be fine with that move, but lets wait for other opinions. --Peter Talk 08:49, 31 May 2009 (EDT)

Reopening discussion

While I understand the desire to prevent willy-nilly addition of colleges to the list, I'm not sure that it's possible to set up an objective measure of prestige. The Nobel Prize criterion strikes me as particularly problematic, as CrazyPaco mentioned above, due to its limited selection of fields.

What I'd like to see us do moving forward is a) define what the purpose of this article actually is, including b) what we expect the purpose of people who read this article to be while touring colleges, and c) come up with a consensus list that remains enforceably static, with changes proposed on the talk page to garner consensus (which is what we do with the "Nine Cities" lists on destination guides). Not all prestigious universities are particularly tourable, and not all universities worth visiting are particularly prestigious.

-- LtPowers 11:35, 25 September 2010 (EDT)

The whole thing has proven ridiculous. The "ranking" hasn't even been updated on a yearly basis, and the methodology was constructed by one individual who asserted ownership over the article without consensus. CrazyPaco 00:00, 23 February 2012 (EST)
Besides having none of the even questionable credibility afforded to actual published rankings that are at least likely to be constructed without institutional bias and have a significant advantage of being more widely understood by the public (and open to review and criticism), the completely arbitrary selection of this "methodology"'s components have little to no validity for quantifying an impossible to define concept such as prestige. Even if it did, a major issue with is that this article is geared toward foreign visitors, yet it utilized a purely US-based US News undergrad ranking that no one outside of the states even looks at. (although clearly the "methodology" hasn't been used any time recently in deciding which schools to add).
If a methodology is to be developed, it would make more sense to rely on the most popular international rankings, or a combination thereof. Rankings like THES, HEEACT, URAP, and ARWU. Of course, this hurts smaller liberal arts universities, so even that can't be completely relied upon. You end up with a giant mess. Research universities and liberal arts colleges aren't even comparable, not that a good many foreign students aren't actually at the graduate level anyway. Really, there would needs to be at least two separate methodologies for ranking colleges.CrazyPaco 03:48, 23 February 2012 (EST)



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