Malcolm Gladwell Podcast “Revisionist History” Focuses on HBCU Dillard Univ.; Exposes Hypocrisy of Well-known Annual College Ranking System

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Richard Shropshire UNCF Communications 571.421.7120 rshropshire@uncf.org

The renowned journalist and author’s podcast episode examines the impact of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings on HBCUS

 

Breaking through the mythology of what makes or breaks an academic ranking, renowned journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell recently investigated the system that rates colleges and universities across the United States, the U.S. News & World Report Annual College Rankings. His investigation reveals the formula that creates the rankings and how certain colleges rate versus others. During an episode of his podcast released yesterday entitled “Project Dillard,” Gladwell explores what would land Dillard University, an historically Black college or university (HBCU), as a highly ranked university on the ranking system—instead of at the near bottom of the stack as it currently is. Dillard, based in New Orleans, is a UNCF (United Negro College Fund)-member HBCU and is part of the Black Ivy League.

The podcast series “Revisionist History” is Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and misunderstood, as he explains. “Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance,” said Gladwell. On July 1, he kicked off the two-part series on racism in college rankings, which leads to the second episode featuring Dillard University.

In a statement, Gladwell says that HBCUs have always impressed him. “To take on what they do and still find a way to produce extraordinary academic outcomes—that’s fascinating to me. They punch above their weight. If the function of higher education is to provide opportunity, then there is no better example of this than HBCUs.”

What Gladwell discovers is that the system rankings are biased towards schools that:

  • Have larger endowments
  • Have mostly white student bodies
  • Charge higher tuition rates
  • Keep student selection as small and narrow as possible

“During my 16 years as a UNCF-member institution president, I have consistently argued, using data, that the U.S. News college rankings simply measures privilege, both perceived and accumulated,” says Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University. “Malcolm Gladwell uses his platform not only to emphasize this point, but to point out where philanthropy would make the greatest impact.”

Gladwell finds the students at HBCUs to be disrespected in many ways. “Why is it that the Black Ivy League [like Dillard University] is not treated with same reverence as the White Ivy League?” he asks during the second podcast featuring Dillard. To back his claims, Gladwell cites the ideas that help higher-ranked schools achieve their status:

  • More spending is better than less; HBCUs often don’t have large budgets.
  • Staying smaller means you’re elite, which is antithetical to the ideals of helping as many as you can—the ideals of HBCUs.
  • Peer assessments drive some of the scoring; if your peers are always outnumbered, how can you get ahead?
  • To attract students who attract good rankings that attract major endowments requires inducements like fancy dormitories; funding like that doesn’t come easily or ever to HBCUs.

To learn more about Gladwell’s findings and to listen to the entire “Project Dillard” episode of “Revisionist History,” visit http://podcasts.pushkin.fm/revisionist-history-dillard?sid=dillard.

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About UNCF
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, supports and strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically Black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding nearly 20% of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at over 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized trademark, ‟A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at UNCF.org or for continuous updates and news, follow UNCF on Twitter at @UNCF.