Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jefferson Huang

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© 2017 Nicolas C Blumm


This thesis explores the fundamental ethics and purpose of elite higher education. Beginning with an inquiry into the history of American higher education, this work reveals that the U.S. News & World Report “Best College” and “Best University” ranking lists hold an increasingly important role in distinguishing institutions, particularly those within the elite tier. Following an examination of the U.S. News’ methodology, this analysis confronts concerns with individual access to elite institutions. Although there are potential changes to the U.S. News’ methodology that could improve institutional assessment, this thesis does not propose alternative rankings. Rather, it focuses on many institutions’ problematic choice to use the rankings as a guide for admissions and institutional practice. This work evaluates the potentially stratifying components of elite institutions and questions what American higher education inculcates in students. This endeavor concludes by providing suggestions for how to democratize elite institutions in order to realize their respective missions and improve access to educational opportunities.

Chapter I: Introduction & Motivation

Chapter II: History

Chapter III: The U.S. News & World Report Rankings

Chapter IV: The Current System of Higher Education

Chapter V: For Society’s Benefit

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.