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Down, Out, Undeterred

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Administration takes U.S. News ranking in stride

College competition intensifies every year, and according to U.S. News and World Reports, Saint Louis University is falling behind.

Annual rankings by the U.S. News and World Reports of the best national colleges for 2014, released on Sept. 10, indicate that SLU is no longer in the top 100 national universities–although it does come in a close 101.

A careful look at the study, however, reveals that the list may not be quite what it seems.

The ranking, which consists of 281 national universities, compiles the data of these eight specific categories and weighs them accordingly: undergraduate academic reputation, retention, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance, alumni giving rate, and high school counselor ratings. These eight categories are then used to calculate a university’s overall score, out of 100 points, which results in a list of the who’s who of universities.

With a college’s reputation weighing 15 percent more than the graduation rate performance and a majority of the components relying on a school’s wealth, one may question the legitimacy of the rankings.

“There is a lot of misconception about what college rankings are measuring and what they are not measuring,” stated Vice President for Enrollment and Retention Management Jay Goff.

Amongst the eight categories evaluated, SLU had increased its score in five of them, decreased in two, and remained stagnant in one since last year. However, because this year’s ranking changed the weights of the categories, putting the most emphasis on academic reputation and retention, the university did not seemingly reflect these improvements.

“I think it’s a political process,” commented senior student Robbie Barnhart. “Reports are highly subjective and political and any factor could swing one school some way or another. I’m concerned for the public reception of the University, but not the intellectual integrity of the institution.”

SLU’s position in the ranking for the past three years has fluctuated, going from 90 in 2012, to 92 in 2013, to the current slot of 101. Since last year, the university has decreased by one point in the overall score.

What the ranking fails to implicitly highlight is that within the top 100 schools alone, there are 26 ties. SLU’s position at 101 supplies the 27th tie, with Iowa State University, Loyola University, North Carolina State University, University of Kansas, University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma and University of Tennessee all claiming the same position. This slot, due to so many ties, is a mere one point away from the 97th rank, and two away from the 91st.

“We think of the groups from 1-200, but within that there are 46 ties—even at our number there are 8 ties,” commented Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Sanchez. “So it doesn’t mean that there are 101 schools whose scores are higher than ours.” Upon seeing the ranking, a few students remarked on SLU’s position as being “worrisome” and “embarrassing”, and linked the rank decline with last year’s No Confidence Vote. Statistics on this matter, however, do not connect the two as SLU’s university peer assessment score has been 2.9 since 2011. The ranking, though not motive for improvement, fuels discussion on future advancements and what areas need the most attention.

“We need to continue to focus on increasing student retention and graduation rates and making sure our faculty and staff have the resources they need to provide a top-quality education,” said Goff. “[But] we’re not going to use rankings to drive our strategic investments.”

Vice President of Academic Affairs Ellen Harshman parallels this sentiment and says that with these priorities on SLU’s mind, the rankings will follow.

“Given the economy, I find it amazing that we have been able to hold our own [with graduate job placement],” stated Harshman. “The things that I hear from employers [of our graduates] have to do with a consciousness of ethics and integrity and a good work ethic—that is the reputation that our students have in the higher community.”

So it would seem SLU is doing just fine.

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