US News and World Report Ranks Colgate #18

 U.S. News & World Report re-leased the 2013 edition of the Na-tional Liberal Arts College Rank-ings on Wednesday, September 12. Colgate University is locked in a four-way tie for 18th.

Colgate held the 21st position in 2012, moving up three spots this year.

“I think there were probably multiple reasons for that … All of these schools are very tightly ranked together so any small move-ment can make a change,” Direc-tor of Institutional Planning and Research Brendt Simpson said.

According to Simpson, Col-gate was tied for eighth place in high school guidance counselor rankings, part of the peer assess-ment element of the rankings, and had a particularly high six-year graduation rate this year, which may have accounted for the jump in rankings.

“There aren’t any huge differ-ences. I think we’ve improved in a few areas, but we can’t control what the high school counselors say,” Simpson said.

Also, Simpson said that he does not know the reasoning for the multiple ties in the rankings; however, if the rankings were based solely on the overall score, Colgate would hold a different spot on the list.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are calculated based on seven components: peer assessment, student selectivity, graduation rate, retention rate, alumni giving, gradu-ation rate performance and faculty resources, according to Simpson.

“I think the methodology used by U.S. News is certainly something that can be questioned,” Dean of Admission Gary Ross said. “I be-lieve that Colgate is among the very, very top colleges and universities … and the fact that U.S. News has de-signed a survey that favors the very wealthiest colleges and universities is something that I think shortchanges students and parents from seeing a ranking that would in fact be more accurate,” Ross said.

The methodology is not the only cause of apprehension when considering the legitimacy of the rankings.

“We do not believe that the U.S. News rankings is a useful measurement because something as complicated as a university can-not be reduced to one number,” President Jeffrey Herbst said.

Additionally, Ross questioned the importance of rankings in terms of students and their educations.

“[The rankings] are still totally out of sync with what students are looking for in the pursuit of their education,” Ross said.

Another reason U.S. News & World Re-port is potentially inaccurate is because it relies on self-report from the participating colleges and universities.

“We’ve seen examples of two very well-known schools within the last six months that have either been caught or confessed to provid-ing data that was not accurate for the sake of bolstering or attempting to bolster their U.S. News & World Report ranking,” Ross said.

However, there is no denying the impor-tance and pervasiveness of the U.S. News & World Report list.

“When I visit schools and when I talk with parents and prospective students and even some guidance counselors, really the only ranking I hear discussed with any measure of regularity is U.S. News & World Report,” Ross said. “I think for anyone who works in representing a highly selective institution like Colgate University, for us to deny that U.S. News & World Report has an impact, I think the only people we would be fooling would be ourselves.”

Simpson also noted the unavoidable obsession with ranking.

“I think it’s a cultural thing in the United States, because we rank everything,” Simpson said.

However, he said people pay special at-tention to U.S. News & World Report be-cause of its long history and the fact that it has basically built its own brand.

“We have long acknowledged that the U.S. News rankings are part of the admissions landscape,” Herbst said.

Colgate students have admitted that they rely on the rankings during their college search process.

“I looked at the U.S. News & World Report when I was deciding where to apply to college because I thought that it was the most accurate representation of the schools’ rankings. Plus, it was on the Internet so it was really easy to access,” first-year Lindsay Kahlbaugh said.

Ross feels that this is not the best approach to take towards choosing a college.

“There are just so many things wrong about having rankings be an influence about where you choose to enroll in college or university,” Ross said.

The rankings have had some influ-ence on how Colgate conducts itself. One of the seven components of assessment, faculty resources, includes percentage of classes with more than 50 students and fewer than 20, faculty compensation and student-faculty ratio.

“Previous issues of U.S. News have point-ed to some relative weaknesses in our stu-dent-faculty ratio and classes under 20 [stu-dents]. This was helpful information when we decided to expand the size of the faculty,” Herbst said. “We try to keep classes small but we are also aware that class availability is an issue and we want to address the curricular needs of our students. If a school caps the size of courses, it means that some students may be shut out.”

According to Simpson, 64 percent of classes at Colgate have fewer than 20 students enrolled.

Within a society that places so much emphasis on rankings, Ross hopes that Colgate will retain its reputation of pro-viding an outstanding undergraduate lib-eral arts education to bright, diverse young men and women.

“As long as we have that kind of reputa-tion,” Ross said, “I would hope that people would … be convinced, if they’ve picked Colgate as the best match, that they’ve picked for themselves the number one col-lege and not get caught up in the frenzy of rankings that are in many cases totally unscientific and totally unprofessional.”

Contact Julia Queller at [email protected].