Publication Date

September 1999


[Excerpt] John Maynard Keynes once compared investing in the stock market to picking the winner of a beauty contest. In each case, it’s not who you think will win, but who you think others will pick. The same characterization increasingly applies to a student’s choice among universities. This choice depends much less now on what any individual student may think, and much more on what panels of experts think. The U.S. News & World Report’s annual college ranking issue has become by far the magazine’s biggest seller, and the same is true of Business Week’s biennial issue ranking the nation’s top MBA programs. The size of a school’s applicant pool fluctuates sharply in response to even minor movements in these rankings. In my remarks today, I’ll discuss some of the reasons for the growing importance of academic rankings. I’ll also explore how our increased focus on them has affected the distribution of students and faculty across schools, the distribution of financial aid across students, and the rate at which costs have been escalating in higher education.


Suggested Citation
Frank, R. H. (1999) Higher education: the ultimate winner-take-all market? (CHERI Working Paper #2). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.