mtvU acquires college professor-rating Web site

By Jonathan Wroble

mtvU, the 24-hour college channel owned by MTV, is working to extend student assessment of professors beyond a scantron questionnaire at the end of the semester.

On Jan. 17, the three-year-old company announced plans to acquire RateMyProfessors.com, a Web site maintained by college students. The site allows students to rank professors on difficulty, helpfulness and clarity, as well as comment on the quality of a course.

“(RateMyProfessors.com) is another factor when you’re picking a course or not,” said Stephen Friedman, general manager of mtvU. “(It has) peer reviews on a topic that is obviously relevant to people going to school.”

For mtvU, this is the second major acquisition in the last six months. In August 2006, the company acquired Y2M, a marketing services agency specializing in connecting leading brands with the college market, which at the time supported 450 online university newspapers through College Publisher.

Today, College Publisher supports 500 online papers and serves more than 5.5 million students.

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“Studies show that readership of national newspapers (among students) is around 30 percent,” Friedman said. “(Other studies) have shown that readership of college newspapers is in the low 90s.”

Similar statistics played into mtvU’s decision to obtain RateMyProfessors.com.

The Web site features more than 6.6 million student ratings of nearly one million professors and is used in some way by about 10 million college students per year. While the site is clearly most popular among student raters, it also appeals to another collegiate group: the rated.

“The more feedback I can have, the better off I am,” said Gretchen Adams, professor of chemistry. “I visit (RateMyProfessors.com) to see what students have to say.”

Adams, who has an overall rating of 4.6 out of 5.0, modified one teaching method early in her career because of a posting on RateMyProfessors.com.

After the fall semester in 2004, a student from her Chemistry 101 class commented that Adams’ tendency to blow up pop bottles at the beginning of class became “pretty annoying” over the course of the semester. As a result, Adams cut down on opening explosions.

“If one student is upset, I’m going to address it,” she said.

Still, Adams explained that the main purpose of RateMyProfessors.com is for students to “communicate with other students.”

Stephen Altaner, associate professor of geology, agreed.

“The site answers questions like ‘was it easy or not?’ and ‘what do you need to get through the course?'” he said. “It is more often useful for students than for the faculty.”

During the next two months, while mtvU’s acquisition becomes finalized, the company will try to make RateMyProfessors.com even more useful. Since 2002, University students have commented around 8,000 times on over 1,700 professors, and Friedman believes that both numbers can increase dramatically.

“We’re going to immediately start promoting (the site) on mtvU and mtvU.com,” he said.

Currently, mtvU researchers are determining whether students would value ratings on subjects besides professors, such as dorm rooms, local eateries or meal plans.

“(RateMyProfessors.com) shouldn’t be the only thing you look at,” he said. “But it can help factor into a choice you have to make.”