As planning educators, we believe it is our responsibility to help prospective students identify the graduate program that best fits their needs, goals, and interests. In light of this responsibility and after considerable deliberation, the full-time faculty of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Colorado Denver have decided against participating in the 6th edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs.
We have several concerns with the Planetizen rankings that led us to our decision. First and foremost, we feel that our continued participation in the Planetizen process elevates a faulty premise – that PAB-accredited planning programs can, or should, be ranked against one another. Planning schools certainly have strengths and limitations that should be carefully weighed by prospective students, but the Planetizen rankings work to obscure these important differences by reducing multi-dimensional programs to a single score. In our experience, factors like the quality of a program’s curriculum, the skills it teaches, its location, student access to faculty, and the program’s connection to the local and regional planning community are the crucial factors that inform a student’s job-market success and career satisfaction, yet are all difficult to quantify and measure. We believe that ranking graduate planning schools – programs which already meet rigorous accreditation standards – discourages the kind of nuanced and critical assessment a prospective student must make to determine which program best suits them.
Even if we did support the premise that program rankings are a valid or useful tool for prospective students, we have several additional concerns. Foremost among them is graduate school affordability. Our experience tells us that many students’ interests are better met by in-state or regional-serving institutions with lower tuition and costs, yet such programs tend to appear lower in the rankings. We believe this gives some prospective students the false impression that if they choose a lower-cost program they will receive a lesser education.
A related concern is the cost of the Planetizen guide itself. To produce their guide, Planetizen relies on substantial effort by planning faculty and staff, which they then package and sell to prospective students at a premium. We are concerned about a private company using our limited resources for their own profit, and are particularly worried about the burden it places on smaller programs.
Finally, we have concerns with the ranking methodology, which after a decade remains opaque and proprietary to Planetizen. As critics of the Planetizen guide and other ranking processes have noted, the self-reported data that impacts such rankings are vulnerable to manipulation. Further, using a faculty survey of program reputation would seem to intrinsically favor large, nationally-prominent universities with high-profile research faculty and PhD programs from which most planning faculty earned their degrees. These are excellent programs, but we believe the survey of program reputation disadvantages many smaller and more regional-serving institutions that also deliver an excellent graduate education.
We believe there is value in having a comprehensive and informative guide to graduate urban and regional planning programs. We also believe that the Planetizen process has encouraged programs to more routinely collect comparable information that is useful for prospective students – a trend we support. In the near term we will continue sharing these and other key indicators about our program on our website. In the long term, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded programs to help make comparisons as straightforward and transparent as possible by sharing common data and metrics. We are also committed to working with colleagues to produce a free guide to graduate planning programs, one that allows students to understand the many nuances that make our programs unique.
Carrie Makarewicz, Jeremy Németh, Rocky Piro, Andrew Rumbach, Ken Schroeppel, Manish Shirgaokar, Jennifer Steffel Johnson, Austin Troy, Elizabeth Walsh and Nan Ellin
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Colorado Denver