A friend of mine from high school recently called to boast about the ranking of her college, Sarah Lawrence, on the new Best American Colleges list posted by Forbes magazine. “We’re number 25,” she said conceitedly, then paused, “and Michigan came in at 161.” At first, I laughed in disbelief. How could any respectable publication ignore the prestige, history, and academic distinction of the University of Michigan? How could schools I’ve never even heard of rank so much higher than “the Harvard of the West”? But when I checked the website, I found it was sadly true.

Then I remembered exactly how enviably Michigan has been rated in the past. US News & World Report currently ranks us the 26th best school overall, and the 4th best public university in the country. At the same time, the Times of London has rated us the 18th best institution in the world. With recognition like that, one has to wonder specifically how Forbes carried out their rating. I thought I’d find out for myself.
According to its website, Forbes’ grading scale is based on course and professor evaluations, alumni prestige, graduation statistics, faculty accomplishment and the amount of debt held by graduates after four years. But I got the impression that something is missing in that description.

Swallowing my pride, I searched for my friend’s school towards the top of the page. Sarah Lawrence has previously not been ranked by other magazines, like US News & World Report, in part because they do not accept standardized test scores in their admissions process. According to the New York Times, Sarah Lawerance is officially the most expensive college in the United States, with tuition at $52,210 a year. And with the average tuition of the list’s top twenty-five schools at $47,668, it’s clear Forbes believes that when it comes to quality education, it’s all about the Benjamins.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, to find that in the magazine that calls itself the “Capitalist Tool.” After all, if it asserts the omnipotence of money, then it’s understandable that the schools it reveres most should be the most expensive. Still, I’m not sure if I’m willing to draw the same conclusion. Pardon my thinly-veiled school spirit, but Michigan genuinely has everything that other schools have and more – without the haughtiness or the expense.

From time to time I hear University of Michigan students are, in fact, elitist, but compared to students at countless other colleges and universities, they really aren’t. Certainly many of the schools that Forbes ranked highly have substantially more pompous reputations. Wolverines, by contrast, have a healthy understanding that their education is both Ivy-influenced and corn-fed. In this middle ground, Ann Arbor offers a prestigious yet unpretentious atmosphere that opens the door to objective thinking.

To be sure, elitism arguably has a place in academics, where determination and pushing the envelope are inherent. But snobbery should not necessarily be a requisite for quality education, particularly when a student’s conceit is more a condition of his trust fund than his intellect. The University does not have a history of catering to a notably wealthy student body. On the contrary, Michigan has historically been a haven for students discriminated against at other schools.

As both a colossal research university and a multifaceted liberal arts school, the University of Michigan weaves a fabric of perspective necessary for its students to truly become the nation’s leaders. And, by accepting more private funding than any other state school in the nation,Michigan operates more like a combination between public and private. It’s these very combinations of the best of both worlds that makes a Michigan education unlike any other.

We hear that all the time, from fellow Wolverines. But what’s most telling is how highly people outside of the Michigan community regard the University, particularly on the East Coast and abroad. We have much to keep us proud in Ann Arbor, and regardless of what Forbes might think, we always will.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu.

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