What makes a ranking: a look at number five
Bowdoin did more than move up in the rankings in the 2001
U.S. News and World Report's "America's Best Colleges Issue";
the College captured a feature role in both the lead and the concluding
paragraph of the main article.
"True Story," the article begins, "A senior
at a New York City high school stole Bowdoin College's catalog from the
guidance office last fall so that none of her classmates would be tempted
to apply there." This student, who typifies the growing competitiveness
among high school students, said she had "a fantasy that someone
really talented in singing would see the viewbook and take my spot."
The conclusion of the report notes, perhaps to some Bowdoin
students' relief, that this "poor New Yorker who was so desperate
to get into Bowdoin" is now proud to call herself a Colby White Mule.
Bowdoin figured prominently into the article itself, its fifth-place rank
(shared with Carleton College, Haverford College, and Pomona College),
up from last year's sixth-place rank, is what will have the most lasting
effect on its admissions.
"We are pleased that Bowdoin's academic reputation
remains strong because we are convinced that the College has an excellent
faculty and academic program as well as a highly selected student body,"
said Dean For Academic Affairs Craig A. McEwen.
For the second year in a row, Amherst College in Massachusetts
tops the list, but this year it is joined by Swarthmore College of Pennsylvania.
Bowdoin competitors Bates and colleges ranked 22nd and 20th, respectively.
The U.S. News rankings are based primarily on seven main
criteria, for six of which Bowdoin ranks among the top ten. In the area
of academic reputation, decided mostly by surveys completed by college
administrative staff, Bowdoin received a score of 4.5, an increase from
last year's 4.4. Bowdoin also showed increases in retention (a composite
of both graduation rate and freshman retention rate), graduation, alumni
giving, and financial resources ranks.
The only one of the seven criteria among which Bowdoin did
not score among the top ten was in faculty resource rank. U.S. News ranked
Bowdoin 77th in this criteria, a decrease from 57th only one year before.
"The primary components of the measure [of the faculty
resource rank] is very misleading," said McEwen.
The faculty resources rank is determined, according to the
U.S. News and World Report web site (www.usnews.com),
by a variety of factors, including class size, faculty salary, the proportion
of full-time faculty on a campus, and the proportion of professors who
have obtained the highest possible degree within their fields.
McEwen explains, "U.S. News computes that average in
a way that confounds two different factors-the average compensation for
faculty at each rank (assistant, associate, and full professor) and the
percentage of faculty at each rank. Because some colleges have a much
higher proportion of more senior faculty than Bowdoin-which has recruited
about 45% of its faculty since 1990-their 'average compensation' is distorted
we have expanded the size of the faculty in recent years
in order to bring down the student-faculty ratio and enrich the curriculum."
McEwen also said, "Another factor that plays a significant
part in this measure is the percentage of classes under 20. That percentage
has gone up at Bowdoin over the last several years but still is lower
than we would like it to be." For the past two years, the percentage
of classes with enrollments under twenty students has remained 61% in
the U.S. News findings.
McEwen is not the only person to express the idea that the
U.S. News rankings do not accurately reflect school performance.
A series of articles in The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and other newspapers have spoke out against the rankings. Many believe they are based more on opinion than any quantifiable information, and often stress less important factors over more important ones.