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August 1999, Week 3


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Wed, 18 Aug 1999 09:45:36 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (74 lines)
Mark Langer wonders:

> Lists of this sort should be approached with extreme caution.  Can a
> ranking difference based on the distinction between a 4.5 and a 4.4 be
> taken seriously?  Upon what is the ranking of a school's reputation based?
> And does reputation depend on present quality, or something else?  What
> determines quality? Who is being surveyed to determine the schools'
> reputations?  What kind of research have those surveyed done on the
> variety and quality of film programs?  How much does a school's reputation
> depend on film, and how much on other fine arts? Somehow, I find it hard
> to believe that U.S. News and World Report has a better idea of where the
> best film schools are than professionals in the field.  Perhaps it is
> time for a Screen-L poll on the top film schools? :-)
> I also find it absurd that one school would be rated better than another
> on an absolute score.  Most of us know that different schools have
> different strengths or specializations.  What a student might want
> from a particular school might differ in no small measure from the
> school's actual virtues.  For example, while Columbia University might
> rank high in terms of certain areas within filmmaking, a student who is
> interested in scholarship would not be particularly well served there.
> (I'm picking Columbia because I am an alumnus, and don't want to be flamed
> for bias.) Yet many of the top schools for more academic pursuits
> (Pittsburgh, Iowa, etc.) don't even make the list.
> In terms of production, one also has to question the selection criteria.
> To take one example, the top North American school for studying animation
> production doesn't even make this list, and several high ranked American
> animation programs are nowhere to be found here.  Similarly, if a student
> is interested in new media, documentary, etc., just picking from the top
> of the list might not be the smartest strategy.  But does U.S. News and
> World Report inform the consumer of this?  I somehow doubt it.

Rankings like those in US NEWS--in all categories, not just film
schools-- are mainly useful for getting some names that are already
well-known.  Some of the specific information (eg., tuition,
staff-student ratios, etc.) can be useful, but even that needs to be
taken with a grain of salt since the statistics may be twisted in a
number of ways.

The "reputation" category is the most questionable of all, since it
depends solely on the arbitrary assignment of a number by the staff
people at the schools who fill out the forms.  In other words, a
middle-tier administrator or instructional research staffer is likely
to rank Columbia higher than other schools simply because he/she has
heard of it!

The problem of categories also comes in here.  For example, a school
may tout its own bragging rights for having placed in the top tier of a
particular category in a particular region.  But when you look closely,
you discover that there are only three or four schools in that category!

In short, guides like the U.S. NEWS rankings can be a place to start,
but don't let the numbers run you around.  Go to the schools' bulletins
and websites.  Better yet, visit the campus if you can, and talk
(personally or electronically) to faculty, students, and alumni.  Ask
about retention, graduation, and placement rates.  Get specific data.

And good luck!

Don Larsson

Donald Larsson
Minnesota State U, Mankato
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