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Ranking Graduate Programs in Spanish / Hispanic Linguistics

The National Research Council (NRC) and US News & World Report have both attempted to rank graduate programs in the United States. Experts in higher education and statisticians have discredited these rankings, but their voices are rarely heard. The larger public likes lists and simple answers. Some assume that the rankings are put together by qualified, sophisticated thinkers, and as such, they must be getting at the truth. But are they? To answer that question, you have to read the ranking methodologies and think critically. Here are a few big problems:

The National Research Council

The National Research Council (NRC) rankings are no longer relevant. The data for the rankings were collected in 2006, with minor revisions over the following three (3) years as complaints surfaced in very specific fields (not Spanish). Essentially, the NRC rankings reflect the movement and activities of faculty until 2006. As professors are hired, leave, or retire, the rankings can change dramatically. If one highly published professor leaves, the rank of the program they leave behind is very likely to drop, along with its value to you as a graduate student. The presence or absence of specific professors also changes student variables used by the NRC to rank programs, like time to degree and whether graduates were placed in an academic job. A good professor can mentor graduates through completion more quickly, and help them find a job through networking.  Between 2006 and 2015, Spanish linguistics departments have changed, from who is there to the roles they play. Also, if you are interested in Hispanic Linguistics, note that the NRC lumps literature and linguistics together, meaning the rankings would not have been relevant to you even in 2009-2010 when the NRC ranking was released. Typically, Spanish departments have a lot of literature professors and a handful, or perhaps one or two linguistics professors, if any. Even when you manipulate variables personally on PhDs.org (which uses the old, now irrelevant NRC data), the ranking it gives you is largely irrelevant to a student looking for the best graduate program in Hispanic Linguistics.

US News & World Report

The yearly US News & World Report’s ranking of best colleges and graduate schools is perhaps the best known attempt at ranking higher education programs. Colleges and universities care about these rankings because they think students and donors will care. Yet the methodology for the social sciences and humanities has an enormous flaw:

“Rankings of doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities are based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to academics in each discipline.”
2015 US News & World Report, Grad Schools, Methodology

What does this mean? It means that the rankings authoritatively displayed by the US News & World Report on their website and in their magazines are simply popularity contests with no attention paid to the majority of metrics that matter to graduate students, like time to degree, or research and publishing productivity of faculty, not to mention funding, mentoring, networking opportunities and support, or how successful previous graduates have been in landing a good job. It is like ranking your favorite singers, then giving that ranking to a stranger expecting that they will agree. Unfortunately, many students seeking the best graduate school don't even know that they should be questioning the US News & World Report’s rankings of social sciences and humanities programs.

US News & World Report rankings do not include Hispanic Linguistics, nor Spanish language and literature. Discussing their ranking methodology here is meant to underscore the need to do your own research.

Personally Ranking Master's and PhD Programs in Spanish / Hispanic Linguistics

It is a good idea to create your own ranking of departments based on personal preferences. Would you live in New York City? Is Florida just right? Weigh considerations that will be crucial to your success. Three factors that determine your success:

  1. Who the professors are (personality, publishing record, and taking the time to mentor you)
  2. How well you survive financially
  3. How hard you work

The NRC and US News rankings will not help you figure these things out. Here is what you can do:

  1. Carefully go through the professors' profiles to see if you are interested in their work.
  2. Go through the graduate student profiles to see if your interests align with theirs.
  3. Make sure you know how much financial support you will receive, and how expensive it is to live in the surrounding area.
  4. Contact people in the department to get your questions answered. One extremely important contact is the department’s graduate secretary. They seem to know everything.

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