Getting It Right A Word On College Rankings
I have been in higher education for more than 25 years now, and i am amazed at the growing number of magazines, Web sites and publications providing rankings on America’s colleges and universities. Today, rankings can be found for almost any imaginable dimension of college life. While some of these listings clearly take a humorous look at the more frivolous aspects of the collegiate experience, others claim to offer meaningful information for making college choices in the increasingly competitive world of undergraduate admissions. it is important to remember nearly all are designed with one purpose in mind – to sell more magazines or increase ad revenue (that is their business!). Unfortunately, most rankings do not take a meaningful look at the outcomes of the college experience or the students’ assessment of their own experience. With all this in mind, it was particularly gratifying to find our ranking among the top 20 colleges in the nation in three categories in the Princeton review’s The Best 371 Colleges based on a national survey of students. The three categories in which Wittenberg placed in Princeton’s top 20 are “Professors Get High Marks,” “Most Beautiful campus” and “Everybody Plays intramural Sports.” Within each of these categories, Wittenberg shares space with impressive company, including Wellesley, Swarthmore, Davidson and notre Dame. But while the national mention alongside these and many other well-known and outstanding institutions is nice, what impresses me most is the authenticity of the rankings and the categories relative to our mission, values and the “feel” of Wittenberg as I experience it every day.
While I can’t personally testify that “Everybody Plays intramural Sports,” our data tell us that a high percentage of our students do. And while this next observation is less than scientific, it certainly seems that many students are passing me pretty effortlessly as they climb the hills on campus! What’s important here is the degree to which intramural sports fosters engagement across the campus community and a degree of commitment to personal health and fitness.
The “Most Beautiful campus” category reminds me of the power that our physical surroundings have to nurture and inspire. The natural features of Wittenberg’s campus have served as the backdrop for the growth and development of our students for generations, and they continue to serve as the physical embodiment of the Wittenberg experience for our more than 26,000 alumni around the world.
Of course, the “Professors Get High Marks” category addresses the heart of the Wittenberg experience – our faculty’s eff ectiveness in the teaching/learning enterprise as evaluated by their students. And while many small colleges talk about the quality of their faculty, it takes much more than talk to have our students experience this eff ectiveness strongly enough to rate Wittenberg this highly against a national peer group. Faculty and staff at Wittenberg live out their commitment to students in ways that make “above and beyond” the norm here. The fact that Wittenberg students have recognized and acknowledged our faculty’s expertise as educators is gratifying beyond words.
To validate our rankings by Princeton review, we need only look to the outcomes-based data provided by the National Survey of Student Engagement, a survey given annually to first year and senior students across the country. Wittenberg’s scores on “campus engagement” and “relationships with their faculty” consistently outperform our peer set.
For most students and families, the emotional and fi nancial commitment represented in the decision to attend a particular college or university is simply too important to be made based on faulty or superfl uous information. What the Princeton review adds to the rankings mix is the critical, real-time voice of current students, and in this edition our students have spoken clearly, and I believe accurately. in a number of discussions and presentations since the publication of this year’s Princeton list, many members of the Wittenberg family have asked me what i thought about these rankings to which I have responded simply, “I think the folks at Princeton ‘got it right.’ ”
Mark H. Erickson