New college rankings send mixed signal to campus
As the season of heightened college anxiety begins for high school seniors, US News and World Report recently published its annual rankings of "America's Best Colleges." The September 1 issue of the magazine, which includes the listings of what US News deems the best colleges and universities in the nation, is its best-selling issue this year.
This year Bowdoin ranked tenth among liberal arts colleges, dropping
from its seventh place ranking in 2002 and fifth place ranking in 2001.
The rankings are based on 15 different criteria including first year retention
rate, peer assessment, and student selectivity. While Bowdoin received
a high peer assessment score, it scored very low in faculty resources
due to its large percentage of relatively young faculty who have not attained
full professorship. A relatively low endowment and high student-faculty
ratio are also areas where the College falls behind.
The popularity of the rankings has sparked a backlash among those who believe that rankings are an inappropriate way to assess a college. When asked his view on rankings' place in a college's reputation, Bowdoin College President Barry Mills said, "Unfortunately, ratings really matter since everyone pays important attention to them-they are part of how we are perceived by the outside world."
Mills pointed out that certain characteristics of the rankings reflect
US News's need to sell magazines, such as the inclusion of schools from
each geographical region. He also said that the criteria used to determine
a college's ranking change each year, so while Bowdoin remains essentially
the same institution that it was a year or two ago statistically, its
Dean of Admissions Jim Miller said that since the rankings came out in the mid-80s, no prospective students have mentioned them.
"High school guidance counselors have spent a lot of time telling
people to look at a lot of different sources," he said. "I think
that people consult an amalgam of sources-the Princeton Review, Fiske,
Barrons. Taken cumulatively, guidebooks can be a good source of information."
Archaeology professor Scott MacEachern suggested that presenting cut-and-dry data about colleges presents an appealing form of information for students confused and anxious about choosing the right college.
"When looking for evidence, there is a seductive aspect to fastening onto that one number," he said. "If you are looking for colleges in general, and not sure of what you want to major in, any information is going to be of some help."
He also indicated his concern that students might rely on the rankings "while ignoring what is right for them."
Beyond the rankings, many contend that the real choice lies in what college
fits a student's individual needs. One first year, choosing between Davidson,
Carleton, and Bowdoin last spring, ultimately chose Bowdoin because of
its East Coast location.
"A Bowdoin education is what you make of it," he said. "No
national ranking can change that."