There are more than 200 Hospitality and hotel management schools across the U.S., offering multiple-level degrees in the industry and even online study. Because those programs range greatly in structure and quality, and because your hospitality school choice makes a big difference in career opportunities after graduation, many students turn to hospitality school rankings to help determine who's who in the higher education field of restaurant, foodservice, tourism, and hotel management.
But with hospitality rankings, the general rule of not putting all those eggs of yours in one basket definitely does apply. Hospitality school rankings should not be the determining school-choice factor of incoming students because they are often based on incomplete or old information. They can be useful as a snapshot of hospitality schools across the board, giving students a taste of what program options are out there and how well-regarded each school is by the hospitality industry or the hospitality education community.
How Hospitality Programs are Ranked
Most hospitality program rankings are determined by popular votes from educators within the field. Factors that can be evaluated to formulate hospitality school rankings vary greatly, but can include aspects such as:
- Research productivity of faculty
- Students' high school GPAs
- Admissions selectivity
- Graduate employment rates
- Graduate starting salaries
- School financial assets
Hospitality program rankings are also different depending on who the raters are, according to Dr. Robert Brymer, director of the Dedman School of Hospitality at Florida State University. He said that ranking groups commonly include:
- Graduate recruiters
- Faculty members of other universities
- Research journals
Some schools put a great deal of effort into campaigning and modifying their departments to increase their standings among program rankings, and even if a hospitality school doesn't have much regard for rankings, most know that they shouldn't be ignored. There is a certain political element to school and program rankings because they tend to be subjective, so it's important that schools present themselves often and make a good impression in order to attain a good ranking.
"It's certainly important to monitor the rankings; we do our best to be as competitive as possible," said Brymer. "We do some things differently to improve our ranking, like increasing research productivity. We participate in educational conferences, forums, and symposiums for exposure to, and cooperation with other educational institutions. We also work hard with industry partners that recruit our graduates to get them their best job matches. The more potential rankers know and understand your program, the more they value you. But in the end, the reason we strive to improve our department for the good of our students."
Difficulties with Hospitality Program Rankings
Brymer said that hospitality rankings are reasonably accurate, based on their ranking criteria (which is limited), but that there is no all-encompassing hospitality and hotel management program ranking. Students need to know what criteria the hospitality rankings they're looking at are based on, and know what value they have for the ranking's determining factors.
But before you can apply your discerning eye to hospitality rankings, you have to find some. It's not as easy as it sounds; many of the rankings are niche-market industry publications sent out to subscribers or obscure single-year studies by independent universities. Nationwide magazines that devote themselves to annual school rankings often don't rank hospitality schools, or they consider them part of university business schools (which are ranked like crazy by just about everyone).
This is another reason it can be difficult to find uniform, concise rankings for hospitality and hotel management programs. But whether rankings dedicate a hospitality schools/program category or just mention hospitality programs peripherally, there is plenty of contention about the quality and usefulness of rankings.
"Hospitality school ranking criteria is not well-defined or understood," said Dr. Terry Umbreit, director of the Hospitality Business Management program at Washington State University. "They're not accurate at all, not current, and they're misleading. No one does a good enough job on them."
"Deans and directors in the field know who we are and where we measure in quality, but the public usually does not know that. They must depend on the rankings, so a lot of people look at them."
Using Rankings to Find the Best Hospitality Program for You
Students should decide what criteria are valuable to them and base their hospitality program choice on how closely each program matches their own ideas of quality. It can be difficult to compare hospitality schools since many hospitality and hotel management programs may stand alone or may be tied into related schools; some are incorporated into larger schools of business, and some are part of nutrition programs or within departments of life sciences.
"Hospitality schools are so different. Some are freestanding; some are in schools of business or food science. Some have doctorate degrees, so they produce good research, but they may not have a good undergraduate program. It's hard to evaluate them," said Umbreit.
So outside of those elusive, clear-cut hospitality school rankings, a little creativity is in order from the optimum hospitality school seeking student. Students should find which schools offer hospitality programs, then cross-reference those schools using other rankings, especially business rankings because they often go hand-in-hand.
Keep in mind what factors are really important to you, the future hospitality student, that are commonly left out of rankings (e.g., costs, program emphases, average class sizes, culture). Once you've done some research, you'll essentially have formulated your own personalized hospitality program ranking, which will be tremendously more useful to you than any existing ranking could be.
"Do research, use web sites, talk to previous program graduates and industry executives who have a relationship with the school to get a better understanding of how it's perceived," said Umbreit.
Perhaps above all else, firsthand evaluation of the hospitality school you're considering is a must for a student; it's invaluable towards insuring your satisfaction, success, and happiness.
"Make a personal visit," said Brymer. "Meet students, and attend a class or two. Get a feel for the culture, environment, and the campus. Make sure the academic climate matches your personal style. Touring the campus is extremely important toward making your best decision."
Helpful Links for Making the Best Hospitality School Decision:
- U.S. News & World Report Schools with Hospitality Administration/Management
- U.S. News & World Report Schools with Hospitality and Recreation Marketing Programs
- CHRIE Guide to Hospitality Program Rankings
- Business Week Undergraduate Business School Rankings (for hospitality schools within business programs)
- American Universities Admission Program Rankings for International Students
- CollegeProwler "Reality" Rankings
- The Princeton Review- objective rankings
- The Gourman Report
- College Confidential College Rankings Summary
- Washington Monthly Rankings
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