The news that Columbia University filed fraudulent data to rise in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings has again raised the question of what these rankings mean. Does anyone imagine that as Columbia “plunged” from No. 2 to No. 18 (as its ranking was reassessed by U.S. News on its own estimated data) that the Columbia students sitting in their classrooms in Upper Manhattan felt the quality of their education slipping away?

Columbia is exactly the same university at No. 18 as it was at No. 2. Nothing real in any student experience is different. Nor will it change if Columbia manages to claw its way back up. Is the University of Chicago (No. 6) a tiny bit better than University of Pennsylvania at No. 7? Or objectively 10 places superior to lowly Cornell, way down at No. 17? These rankings have zero to do with what is real about a college or university, and it is time to once again declare them bunk and encourage families, prospective college students and all media folks everywhere to ignore them.

Brian Howell is a professor of anthropology at Wheaton College.