It has become a way of life to turn to our favorite search engines and find listings of the “Best,” “Top 10,” and “Most Highly Ranked” in just about everything. There are plenty of blogs, online publications, and web-based articles offering free access to these lists of rankings. Too often, these sites fail to describe the criteria used to create the list, are a reiteration of MHA rankings from another source, or are based on opinions rather than facts. If you’re enrolling in a graduate program and investing your time, money, and future in a particular curriculum, it’s important to be sure that you are finding the optimal program for your needs.
When it comes to trusting online Master’s in Health Administration rankings, it is important to take the time to understand how a given list was made. By what metrics was a program evaluated? What were the data points? And will these factors be important to you as you make decisions about your own graduate school studies? Read on for more information about the nature of rankings, and learn how to determine which MHA programs will best suit your needs.
How are rankings typically determined?
While methodologies for determining graduate program rankings may vary, the most common rankings are based on judgments by experts, either alone or in combination with data points such as graduation rates and post-graduation employment rates. Publications most commonly recognized for their rankings of schools, colleges, universities, and programs include the U.S. News and World Report, Princeton Review, and Forbes College Rankings. Of these sources, rankings from the U.S. News and World Report are the most frequently cited.
The U.S. News and World Report rankings use a very specific methodology for ranking MHA programs, and one which differs from their general strategy for college rankings. These health school rankings are entirely based upon peer review. Surveys are sent to deans, university administrators, and faculty of accredited schools and programs within the healthcare discipline. Respondents rate schools on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). They are directed to report “don’t know” if they do not have enough knowledge to make a fair rating. The schools with the highest average peer ratings are the listed in that year’s official ranking report. In other words, the U.S. News rankings for MHA programs are based on the opinions of professionals in higher education, who draw from their own understandings of a program, school, or university’s overall quality.
Not all MHA rankings are based on opinion, however. Another method for rankings involves looking across common data points like graduation rates. US News offers a list of the colleges which had the highest proportion of students who graduated in four years.
What are some pitfalls to MHA rankings?
While MHA programs may like to boast about their position on various lists, rankings do not necessarily provide a meaningful account of the benefits or disadvantages of a given program. First, if you are considering pursuing your MHA part-time an/or online, there may be a high-quality program out there that will not even be ranked for your consideration. In addition, researchers have determined that peer-based qualitative rankings are inherently flawed. Professor Meredith Davis of North Carolina State University reviewed the history of higher education rankings and pointed out that “the more ranking systems rely on reputational data in assessing these factors—that is, on top-of-the-mind impressions by peers and employers rather than on hard data—the higher the likelihood of biased and/or inaccurate results.” Finally, when rankings are based on just a few key indicators, the resultant lists may exaggerate little differences that are not significant to the quality of education you will receive. By the same token, other more important factors may be ignored, painting a cloudy picture of the type of experience you will have at a particular school.
In short, the current ranking systems do not do justice to the majority of disciplines. Ultimately, media-based systems that rank programs can be used as loose guides, but aspiring MHA students should remember that ranking companies are not accountable for true oversight and are profiting from their lists.
So how should rankings weigh into my review and research of MHA programs?
Start by understanding that these rankings are never objective. Think about what you value in an educational experience. The status of a highly ranked school should never be your sole criteria for selecting a program. Consider your goals, needs, finances, and values. Reflect on the mission of a program, and consider whether this matches your educational and career goals. Take the time to review the curriculum and course of study as well as opportunities for internships and practical training. Check retention rates, graduation rates, and outcomes for graduates. When someone tells you that a program is highly ranked, ask yourself what that really means. Then ask yourself, “Is this the best program for me?”
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