I have long maintained that the U.S. News rankings and the other status competitions among institutions of higher learning are a manifestation of excess demand for perceived quality or perceived prestige. There are more valedictorians than Harvard can enroll, thus Harvard has to curate its classes. Likewise Princeton or Yale or Duke or Northwestern.
Perhaps there's a business opportunity for universities not satisfied with the way they're polling at U.S. News. (It's an open secret in higher education: any university official might say in conversation that those rankings or any other rankings are flawed in some way, but just let the rankings improve and watch for the press release.)
But competing for those students is not a race to the bottom, and that troubles Inside Higher Ed's John Warner. The villains in his piece are stingy state legislators. "State disinvestment is the inciting incident for this phenomenon. We can and should be critical of some of the institutional responses to that disinvestment, but this is the central problem. That disinvestment has led schools astray from their putative mission." That mission being to provide a proper higher education to state residents with intellectual potential.
Doing so, however, raises questions of vertical and horizontal equity. Keep the state universities inexpensive, is the state using tax money to assist promising youngsters from well-off backgrounds in achieving what they'd likely achieve at a more expensive Ivy? Keep the state universities accessible, is the state simply reinforcing social stratification while running dropout factories?