Princeton Review will survey Bowdoin students this month
Bowdoin's administration, dining service, and alcohol consumption will be put to the test in the coming weeks when The Princeton Review begins a survey of campus life at Bowdoin for its annual "The Best 351 Colleges" guide.
The Princeton Review, one of the premier names in the college rankings business, gauges 63 different areas of life at the College for its annually published undergraduate guidebook.
The information gathered by the company is used for three issues of "The Best 351 Colleges." Thus many of the changes occurring each year in the rankings are compared relatively with other institutions because the company receives one-third of its data fresh every year.
At Bowdoin, the company generally hires one or two students to distribute surveys that are completed and mailed back to headquarters in New York City. More recently, online surveys, which have increased response rates, have become available.
The student conducting the survey at Bowdoin will begin the process by the end of October, according to The Princeton Review and Director of Communications Scott Hood. The website, however, (www.survey.review.com) is already operational.
Surveys for "The Best 351 Colleges" generate rankings for 60 of the 63 categories such as "Best Food," "Lots of Beer," and "Dorms Like Palaces" exclusively through student opinion. The other three categories, "Toughest to Get Into," "Best Academic Bang for Your Buck," and "Best Overall Academics," are empirically based.
Hood said that the methods used by the The Princeton Review was unique because students determine many of the rankings.
"This is the one survey where student's opinions are crucial to the image of the College," he said.
Hood also said that basing the image of a school on subjective standards can be a double-edged sword. "The Princeton Review is very fond of catchy quotes in its 'Students Say' section. The one quip a student writes in the survey could have a very large impact on what he or she reads about Bowdoin a year from now."
Due to the frequency of its visits to campuses, The Princeton Review has also faced criticism from the Bowdoin administration.
Dean of Admissions Jim Miller said, "The changes in the student body at Bowdoin over the past several years have been significant. But a student reading this year's guidebook won't know anything about those changes because the 2003-10-10 review is based on three-year-old data."
"Basically, we're comparing what Williams students said about Williams today to what Bowdoin students said about Bowdoin three years ago," Hood said.
This accounts for changes in the rankings every year. Since Bowdoin is not reviewed on an annual basis, it shifts positions in the ranks due to its relative place among colleges nationwide.
Robert Franek, Editorial Director for The Princeton Review, and author of numerous college guidebooks including "The Best 351 Colleges," said, "I don't think that schools inherently change over a three year period." Franek also said, "I have no intention of changing our three-year survey cycle unless shown compelling evidence that student opinion dramatically changes in shorter rotation."
Miller, however, said he believes that by reporting information "in as timely a manner as possible," students will ultimately be more informed.
In the 2004 edition, the "Students Say" section contains comments on diversity from the classes of 2003 and 2002. Both classes were more than 85 percent Caucasian. The Class of 2003 graduated only two African-Americans. Three out of ten students in the class of 2007, however, are students of color.
Nonetheless, the 2004 guidebook stressed Bowdoin's homogeneity. One student opinion remains from three years ago. "Good thing this campus is traditionally liberal and open-minded, otherwise we would be confused for a white-pride meeting."
Franek understands the process isn't a science. He said, "I will
grant a request for a special survey if the administration can prove that
there has been a significant change in student opinion." Since the
inception of the "Best 351 Colleges" guidebook, Franek said
he grants special reviews once or twice per year.