Media Fixates on Harvard

Rankings highlight correlation between university prestige and media coverage

Just a few weeks after Harvard stole back the top spot in the U.S. News college rankings, the University has been ranked number one again—this time for its brand.

The rankings, released earlier this month by Global Language Monitor, a company that uses quantitative methods to analyze the impact of language on society, are based on the number of times colleges and universities’ names were mentioned in both print and electronic global media over the past nine months.

Indicating that prestige and media coverage seem to be correlated, six of the universities on the Global Language Monitor list also made the U.S. News top ten.

Global Language Monitor President Paul Payack said yesterday that he expected the popularity of university athletic programs to be a larger factor in his rankings.

“The number one criteria is academic reputation,” Payack said. “Sports were a much smaller influence than you would think.”

Each college and university was assigned a Predictive Qualities Indicator score that determined its ranking. Harvard’s PQI score was 2365.42. Columbia, which ranked second, scored more than a hundred points lower. Stanford, which came in third, scored more than a hundred points less than Columbia.

Yale ranked a distant eighth.

“It’s kind of interesting how large the gap was between Harvard and the other schools,” Payack said. “The difference between Harvard and MIT was substantial.”

MIT ranked 19th, with a score of less than nine hundred.

Payack said that colleges and universities have cultivated brand names that carry strong connotations among the general public.

“Harvard is a brand name,” said Alex S. Jones, a former New York Times journalist who is the director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Policy. “It’s the oldest and best known university in the United States.”

Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Michael C. Winerip ’74 said in an interview that his 2007 New York Times article about Harvard admissions shot to the top of the paper’s “most e-mailed” list in part because of his repeated references to the University.

“The name Harvard is synonymous with excellence,” Winerip said. “Harvard is held maybe to a higher standard and is questioned more often.”

Indeed, the study seems to validate the Harvard Kennedy School’s recent decision to rebrand itself. Known as the Kennedy School of Government until last spring, the public policy and administration changed its shorthand so that it includes the word “Harvard.”

“The new shorthand serving to reinforce that we are part of the Harvard University family of premier graduate schools,” said Doug Gavel, a Kennedy School spokesman.

The Global Language Monitor study was conducted from December 31, 2007 to September 14, 2008. Colleges and universities were separated according to the classification of the Carnegie Foundation.

The study will continue to be updated quarterly and will be released annually.