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Volume CXXXIII, Number 5
October 10, 2003

Faculty resources lag relative to other NESCACs

Each year US News and World Report releases college rankings that are widely published and read, and for the past few years, Bowdoin College has fallen from five to seven and now ten in 2003.

While ten is still respectable, the drop begs the question of why Bowdoin is falling. One large contribution is that Bowdoin ranks 66 in faculty resources, which accounts for 20 percent of the overall ranking. This ranking is far lower than any of the other schools in the top ten, the next lowest being Wellesley at number 27.

US News and World Report college rankings are based on seven different subdivided categories. These categories include peer assessment, retention and graduation of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, and graduation rate performance.

Faculty resources is divided into six categories, including faculty compensation (35 percent), classes under 20 (30 percent), classes over 49 (10 percent), faculty with terminal degree-the highest degree one can achieve in their respective field (15 percent), full-time faculty (5 percent), and the student to faculty ratio (5 percent).

Faculty compensation is where Bowdoin falls far behind. This takes into account salary and benefits. Compensation accounts for 35 percent of the faculty resources score, and 7 percent of the overall ranking. To calculate the faculty compensation rating, US News and World Report averages the salaries of all professors. Dean of Academic Affairs Craig McEwen says that Bowdoin's poor rating is due to the high percentage of young assistant professors at Bowdoin. About 38 percent of Bowdoin professors are assistant professors, while 35 percent are full professors. These percentages are compared to first-rated Williams and third-rated Swarthmore, whose faculties are both nearly 50 percent professors. Dean McEwen said that the high percentage of assistant professors is due to replacing recently-retired professors, and decreasing the student to faculty ratio which was almost 12:1 in the 90s and is now 10:1.

It would be "more rational [of US News and World Report] to compute differently, to normalize the distribution," says Dean McEwen. Normalizing the distribution would remove the age factor from faculty compensation and take into account only how well the college pays professors, associate professors, and assistant professors compared to other similar institutions. Bowdoin "simply doesn't pay as well," as other liberal arts schools, but Bowdoin "pays better than it looks" in the rankings, he said.

"I understand how important it is to the public perception how colleges are ranked; however, it isn't as valuable as all the notoriety makes them seem," said Bowdoin College President Barry Mills. President Mills said that Bowdoin cares a great deal about class size and is constantly working to improve education and raise the ratings.

Professor Paul Franco agreed that "the ratings are not representative of the intrinsic value of the education," but "they are clearly important to high school seniors in choosing schools," and Bowdoin wants to recruit top students. Professor Franco also noted that the rankings "are not a guide to the authentic value," because "the numbers are too easily manipulated. For example, class size-schools can have cutoffs at 19 students, which allows them to do better in that category, but the educational purpose is unclear."

Bowdoin College does not "want to run the college based on US News and World Report rankings-they are arbitrary in changing," said McEwen, but ratings matter enough to prospective students that Bowdoin is trying to improve their rating in faculty resources.

McEwen said that Bowdoin will change "marginally faculty compensation, and marginally the percent of full-time faculty. In the past, these figures may have been underestimated." In 2003 the percent of full-time faculty was 92 percent, but Dean McEwen said that in 2004 the percent of full-time faculty is closer to 95 percent.

The rankings from 2003 also do not reflect the new policy of capping classes that Bowdoin has implemented. This will reduce the rating for classes over 49 students but not the rating for percent of classes with less than 20 students. For 2003, Bowdoin also had a comparatively low rating for classes under 20 students. 60 percent of classes were under 20 students, while top-rated schools like Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore were all between 67 percent and 70 percent.

Meanwhile, the debate as to whether college rankings are accurate in the value of the education they portray rages on. Atlantic Monthly Magazine jumped on board the lucrative college-evaluating industry and released a college rankings list in its November 2003 issue, challenging the rankings of US News and World Report. For instance, Atlantic Monthly ranked the University of Chicago at no. 39, while US News and World Report puts Chicago at no. 13. Atlantic Monthly is more simplistic in that it examines the selectivity of the institution, the median SAT score, and the class rank of the students,

As for Bowdoin and its faculty resources, the Bowdoin administration says that the numbers will not be changing dramatically any time soon. President Mills said, "we are certainly aware of it and trying to make judgments as to how we can do better," but that the public should keep in mind that there are "very, very small differences that get magnified, and there are small differences between schools, whether they are ranked number six or number 66."

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