How College Rankings Fuel Inequality, and More

August 21, 2019


“A lot of people in this nation and around the world are indifferent to the oppression and the struggles of other people until it includes them, and affects them, and we can't get anywhere like that.” — Vic Mensa, on using music as a form of protest.


College rankings, like those released by the U.S. News & World Report, are receiving increased criticism. Beyond claims that criteria for the rankings are “rooted in junk science,” and that numerous schools have deliberately misreported data (like alumni giving rates and acceptance rates) so that they are ranked higher, the rankings also contribute to inequality between schools with more or less money. The criteria formula was recently changed to eliminate acceptance rates and make room for “social mobility indicators,” like graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients.

College photo

That change helped to boost Howard University by 21 spots. But even with these adjustments, the rankings still typically favor wealthy schools like Harvard and Yale. A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to U.S. News, arguing that the publication’s approach to the rankings “prioritizes prestige and exacerbates America's deeply ingrained and racialized wealth disparities.”


This issue shines a light on the inner-workings of academic bureaucracy and how it often works against people of color and other marginalized groups. We hope that academia can begin to move away from the college ranking system with equality in mind.

How It Affects You

Brian Taylor, managing director of the college consulting firm Ivy Coach, explains that college officials engage in the ranking system despite a lack of confidence in its validity. The reason for this is that “the jobs of the deans and admissions officers depend on these rankings.” If you are in a leadership position at your institution:

•    reflect on the impact these rankings have on historically Black colleges and students of color;
•    think about how you can communicate the inequities inherent in a college ranking system; and
•    advocate for more inclusive criteria in college rankings or end participation in such systems.


Imposter syndrome can be defined as the “nagging feeling that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve the job, the promotion, the book deal, the seat at the table.” More concretely, imposter syndrome can manifest in feeling like a fraud, devaluing your own worth, and undermining your own expertise—even after putting in the work to achieve that level of expertise. And according to educator and author Valerie Young, imposter syndrome has a particular impact on women and racially marginalized people.

Combating imposter syndrome starts with “psyching yourself up.” For example, you could make a list of your own qualifications, say your own name out loud, and imagine “precisely how you’ll navigate the situation—successfully—before it happens.” The next step is to “fight the imposter feeling.” Kevin Cokley, professor of educational psychology and African diaspora studies at UT Austin, says that racially marginalized people can join affinity groups, recruit a mentor, and document accomplishments—and instances of discrimination—in a work diary.

Our Take

As author Jessica Bennett points out, “When suffering from self-doubt, it’s easy to think that you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way—but it’s not true.” The sooner we recognize that many successful people experience imposter syndrome at one point or another, the sooner we can be transparent about these feelings and create environments that account for the ways self-doubt can further hold marginalized people back.

How It Affects You

Take note of how imposter syndrome impacts minority groups in school and the workplace. Cokley points out that “a lack of representation can make minorities feel like outsiders, and discrimination creates even more stress and anxiety when coupled with impostorism.”

To support marginalized students and colleagues in your organization, make sure affinity groups (like employee resource groups) are available, and provide guidelines to mentors for spotting and addressing imposter syndrome with their mentees.


Research shows that native English speakers perceive non-native English speakers to be “less successful, intelligent and believable than other native English speakers.” A new study from Mayflower College in Plymouth, England, similarly found that native English speakers “rated the speakers with the heaviest accents as least true, while native speakers were rated the truest.” The researchers say that because of this bias, non-native English speakers often feel silenced, isolated, and excluded, and that team meetings become less valuable.

Women of color in medical field

The study also found that 88 percent of non-native English speakers find it more difficult to communicate with native English speakers, because unlike non-native speakers, native speakers don’t adjust their English for their audience.


Bias against non-native English speakers is often overlooked and normalized because English is considered a necessary business skill across industries and the globe. But it’s useful and important to consider the incredible privilege that comes with being a native English speaker, one of which is the perceived veracity of one’s words. Shiri Lev-Ari, PhD, a researcher who worked on the study, sums up the crux of the issue: “We're less likely to believe something if it's said with a foreign accent.”

How It Affects You

The researchers list three ways to counter bias against non-native English speakers. Native English speakers can:

  1)   Learn how to adapt their English to make it more accessible to non-native English speakers.
  2)   Reflect on the challenges faced by non-native speakers.
  3)   “Change any unconscious bias they have that their opinion somehow matters more because they can say it in ‘perfect’ English.”