Another Year, Another Ranking Fluctuation

Ok this is clearly the high time of year for college ranking services. U.S. News and World Report is out with the 2009 edition of their big “Best Colleges” list, and once again, Wesleyan has dropped in rank on the list of Best Liberal Arts Colleges, this time from #11 to #13, where it is sandwiched uncomfortably between Vassar and Grinnell.

What does this mean? Not a whole lot, unless you really find it meaningful to scrutinize schools based on minute differences in statistics that fluctuate all the time anyway. Besides, you’re certainly allowed some choice in which college ranking list you attach your self-esteem to.

Get the full list here.

U.S. News & World Report: Liberal Arts Rankings – Best Colleges

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I posted earlier. People are missing my point and giving the typical Wesleyan response which is: We are Wes – we don't subscribe to rankings because we look at things "holistically," which is great but it doesn't sell the cars off the lot. The truth is, the reason why FYI classes are capped at 19 people to boost Wes' numbers for number of classes under 20 students, why the senior fund beseech seniors to donate "just even one dollar" is to boost the alumni donation participation rate. So the Wesleyan administration is in fact, gaming the USNews&Report ranking because unlike the student-body, the board of trustee knows just how important the rankings are (see Doug Bennet's quote in the past issue of Wesleyan Magazine, "I refuse *not* to take the USNews Report ranking seriously". Yet we are still failing because we can't game the one important ranking statistic: the endowment. And it impacts us negatively not only in the endowment category, but the yield rate (ultimately the attraction of top-notch of student and faculty talent to Wesleyan). I love how certain wesfolks immediately latch onto the "elitism" and "holistic, more fair methodology" in response to my comment and the drop of Wes' rankings. It is this naivete of the student-body that I won't miss after I graduate. The end-goal for the institution is to provide top-notch resources for faculty and for students and attract top-notch student-body. And for that Wesleyan has failed to do so, due to a lagging endowment. – numbercrunchr

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I posted earlier. People are missing my point and giving the typical Wesleyan response which is:

    We are Wes – we don't subscribe to rankings because we look at things "holistically," which is great but it doesn't sell the cars off the lot.

    The truth is, the reason why FYI classes are capped at 19 people to boost Wes' numbers for number of classes under 20 students, why the senior fund beseech seniors to donate "just even one dollar" is to boost the alumni donation participation rate. So the Wesleyan administration is in fact, gaming the USNews&Report ranking because unlike the student-body, the board of trustee knows just how important the rankings are (see Doug Bennet's quote in the past issue of Wesleyan Magazine, "I refuse *not* to take the USNews Report ranking seriously".

    Yet we are still failing because we can't game the one important ranking statistic: the endowment. And it impacts us negatively not only in the endowment category, but the yield rate (ultimately the attraction of top-notch of student and faculty talent to Wesleyan).

    I love how certain wesfolks immediately latch onto the "elitism" and "holistic, more fair methodology" in response to my comment and the drop of Wes' rankings. It is this naivete of the student-body that I won't miss after I graduate.

    The end-goal for the institution is to provide top-notch resources for faculty and for students and attract top-notch student-body. And for that Wesleyan has failed to do so, due to a lagging endowment.

    – numbercrunchr

  • Henry

    If a proper ranking methodology was employed by an UNBIASED entity, Wesleyan would always score in the top three or five LACs. There are areas such as research grants won, number of scientific papers published and graduates moving on to earn doctoral degrees where Wesleyan wipes out ALL other LACs. However, amazingly, the clowns producing alchemy over at U.S. News do not include these critical outputs…go figure!

  • Henry

    If a proper ranking methodology was employed by an UNBIASED entity, Wesleyan would always score in the top three or five LACs. There are areas such as research grants won, number of scientific papers published and graduates moving on to earn doctoral degrees where Wesleyan wipes out ALL other LACs. However, amazingly, the clowns producing alchemy over at U.S. News do not include these critical outputs…go figure!

  • Anonymous

    vassar has a better music dept

  • Anonymous

    vassar has a better music dept

  • Anonymous

    like hell vassar is better than wesleyan. haha.

  • Anonymous

    like hell vassar is better than wesleyan. haha.

  • Anonymous

    fuck elitism

  • Anonymous

    fuck elitism

  • Anonymous

    vassar>wesleyanthe thing about these rankings is that they could have an effect on applicants. now people will see vassar a better school, and they will receive more applications from more qualified students. i think on the outside world (i.e. high schools), these rankings are taken more seriously than we take them.

  • Anonymous

    vassar>wesleyan

    the thing about these rankings is that they could have an effect on applicants. now people will see vassar a better school, and they will receive more applications from more qualified students. i think on the outside world (i.e. high schools), these rankings are taken more seriously than we take them.

  • Anonymous

    for the record, “talk about bitter” was directed at numbercruncher, not sheek

  • Anonymous

    for the record, “talk about bitter” was directed at numbercruncher, not sheek

  • Brandi

    I don’t particularly think that those outputs are that objective either. Yes, they are more concrete but, for example, graduates earning doctoral degrees sets up a methodological clusterfuck. Scientific grants won and research only works if you’re gearing the list toward a specific group of people again, I think that it is impossible to come up with a comprehensive ranking that doesn’t rely on inputs heavily because it’s a one-size fits all survey. If US News was going to use your approach, I think their college issue would look more like their graduate schools issue, broken down by specialty, which would probably make a lot of unsure high school students and their parents panic even more. I agree there should be comprehensive groupings but I don’t trust the colleges to get together and do them well because they’ve all got their own interests. On the other hand, I don’t trust magazines and papers to do it because list sell magazines (and get you hits on digg). And of course there are the special interests groups that come up with their own groupings that are also pretty subjective…

  • Brandi

    I don’t particularly think that those outputs are that objective either. Yes, they are more concrete but, for example, graduates earning doctoral degrees sets up a methodological clusterfuck. Scientific grants won and research only works if you’re gearing the list toward a specific group of people again, I think that it is impossible to come up with a comprehensive ranking that doesn’t rely on inputs heavily because it’s a one-size fits all survey.

    If US News was going to use your approach, I think their college issue would look more like their graduate schools issue, broken down by specialty, which would probably make a lot of unsure high school students and their parents panic even more.

    I agree there should be comprehensive groupings but I don’t trust the colleges to get together and do them well because they’ve all got their own interests. On the other hand, I don’t trust magazines and papers to do it because list sell magazines (and get you hits on digg). And of course there are the special interests groups that come up with their own groupings that are also pretty subjective…

  • Henry

    Brandi:What I am trying to convey is simply this: If you are going to rank colleges, then formulate a system that includes measures of not only inputs (academic quality of student body, etc) but also outputs (e.g., research, graduates earning doctorate degrees, scientific grants won, etc). Moreover, the weighting value given to “fuzzy” categories, such as reputation, should be minimized.I do not believe that colleges should be numerically ranked – more like grouped into quality categories. However, if people insist on ranking then they should do it properly, using metrics that are logical and fair.

  • Henry

    Brandi:

    What I am trying to convey is simply this: If you are going to rank colleges, then formulate a system that includes measures of not only inputs (academic quality of student body, etc) but also outputs (e.g., research, graduates earning doctorate degrees, scientific grants won, etc). Moreover, the weighting value given to “fuzzy” categories, such as reputation, should be minimized.

    I do not believe that colleges should be numerically ranked – more like grouped into quality categories. However, if people insist on ranking then they should do it properly, using metrics that are logical and fair.

  • Brandi

    A few questions that I don’t know the answers to.@Henry: What is a methodologically sound method? If you had to create some type of rankings that would put Williams, Amherst and Wesleyan all together, what criteria would be used? There really isn’t a single methodologically “sound” method unless every prospective college student creates rankings specific to what s/he wants. At the point you’re trying to present a one-size fits all approach you’re going to have certain colleges repeatedly getting all the glory while other peer schools are left out. @anyoneI’d also be interested in a seeing application/enrollment/donating stats on college that make a significant jump in the rankings or drop significantly. For example, several years ago when CalTech was #1. I don’t know of any +/- 5 (or more) schools in any years but then again, I haven’t paid that much attention. Anyone know of any schools like that?

  • Brandi

    A few questions that I don’t know the answers to.

    @Henry: What is a methodologically sound method? If you had to create some type of rankings that would put Williams, Amherst and Wesleyan all together, what criteria would be used?

    There really isn’t a single methodologically “sound” method unless every prospective college student creates rankings specific to what s/he wants. At the point you’re trying to present a one-size fits all approach you’re going to have certain colleges repeatedly getting all the glory while other peer schools are left out.

    @anyone
    I’d also be interested in a seeing application/enrollment/donating stats on college that make a significant jump in the rankings or drop significantly. For example, several years ago when CalTech was #1. I don’t know of any +/- 5 (or more) schools in any years but then again, I haven’t paid that much attention. Anyone know of any schools like that?

  • Henry

    Prestige hardly equals quality. A school with high prestige does not necessarily provide a top notch education.We need a new college ranking system produced by a globally respected publication (e.g.,The Economist, New York Times) that makes use of both input and output data. Washington Monthly is one magazine that pays some serious attention to outputs, but their methodology overall is arguably no better than U.S. News.

  • Henry

    Prestige hardly equals quality. A school with high prestige does not necessarily provide a top notch education.

    We need a new college ranking system produced by a globally respected publication (e.g.,The Economist, New York Times) that makes use of both input and output data. Washington Monthly is one magazine that pays some serious attention to outputs, but their methodology overall is arguably no better than U.S. News.

  • Anonymous

    1:54 – you make it sound as though amherst and williams are these horrible places. yes, they have fewer hipsters and a slightly less liberal student body, but I’d imagine they are pretty awesome places to go to college. p.s. – brown is #16 in national uni rankings, if anyone’s counting. 13 is better than 16.

  • Anonymous

    1:54 – you make it sound as though amherst and williams are these horrible places. yes, they have fewer hipsters and a slightly less liberal student body, but I’d imagine they are pretty awesome places to go to college.

    p.s. – brown is #16 in national uni rankings, if anyone’s counting. 13 is better than 16.

  • Anonymous

    US News doesn’t measure educational quality. more like prestige, 2:38

  • Anonymous

    US News doesn’t measure educational quality. more like prestige, 2:38

  • Anonymous

    @1:54: a-fucking-men.

  • Anonymous

    @1:54: a-fucking-men.

  • Henry

    The point is that under a methodologically sound ranking system Wesleyan would end up right at the top, along with it’s closest peers (Williams and Amherst). The formula that U.S. News utilizes contains little scientific truth value, since it places far too much weight on subjective categories; categories that cannot be effectively measured and do not accurately reflect the level of education quality. Again, key quantifiable outputs (e.g., research performance) need to be a major part of the ranking criteria.

  • Henry

    The point is that under a methodologically sound ranking system Wesleyan would end up right at the top, along with it’s closest peers (Williams and Amherst). The formula that U.S. News utilizes contains little scientific truth value, since it places far too much weight on subjective categories; categories that cannot be effectively measured and do not accurately reflect the level of education quality. Again, key quantifiable outputs (e.g., research performance) need to be a major part of the ranking criteria.

  • Anonymous

    If Amherst and Williams are the top, do we really want to be up there?I’m sure there are wonderful things about those schools – but from what I’ve learned about their campus cultures, neither one is the sort of place I’d want to be for four years.

  • Anonymous

    If Amherst and Williams are the top, do we really want to be up there?

    I’m sure there are wonderful things about those schools – but from what I’ve learned about their campus cultures, neither one is the sort of place I’d want to be for four years.

  • Anonymous

    numbercrunchr, i am very curious to know your identity.

  • Anonymous

    numbercrunchr, i am very curious to know your identity.

  • Anonymous

    oh em fucking gee, we’re #13i guess my education is WORTHLESSi will NEVER get a jobEVER EVER EVER

  • Anonymous

    oh em fucking gee, we’re #13

    i guess my education is WORTHLESS
    i will NEVER get a job
    EVER EVER EVER

  • Sheek

    Numbercrunchr, I’m well aware of why these rankings exist and who uses them, and you’d have to have blinders on not to notice that Wesleyan’s financial condition could be better. Your research is impressive, but it’s still pretty narrow-minded to judge prestige and quality from fluctuating yearly rankings, and especially to base a college decision on them.Also I’m certainly not bitter about this drop in ranking. It would be nice if we rose, I guess, but it wouldn’t make me place any more stock in the system that makes the rankings. And Wesleying is not the Argus.

  • Sheek

    Numbercrunchr, I’m well aware of why these rankings exist and who uses them, and you’d have to have blinders on not to notice that Wesleyan’s financial condition could be better. Your research is impressive, but it’s still pretty narrow-minded to judge prestige and quality from fluctuating yearly rankings, and especially to base a college decision on them.

    Also I’m certainly not bitter about this drop in ranking. It would be nice if we rose, I guess, but it wouldn’t make me place any more stock in the system that makes the rankings. And Wesleying is not the Argus.

  • Henry

    The U.S. News rankings are ludicrous, we are all aware of that. However, the general public is very poor at evaluating ranking methodology and the various ways data can be manipulated to spin reality. As a consequence, many people perceive the ratings that U.S. News produces to be fundamentally accurate measures of an institution’s quality. Hey, ignorance is bliss… In many ways it really comes down to money, not quality. If Wesleyan had an endowment that totaled over one billion dollars it would surely be ranked right up there with Williams and Amherst (where it should be). Does any reasonably informed person truly believe that you actually receive a better education at any of the LACs ranked ahead of Wesleyan by U.S. News? Most important, U.S. News fails miserably when it comes to measuring outputs such as research quality, research grants awarded, number of graduates going on to earn doctoral degrees and scientific publication performance. These are areas where Wesleyan obliterates their peers, year after year.Ranking colleges numerically is a very bad idea, but it sells magazines for U.S. News (and others) so they keep producing the same highly flawed garbage year in and year out.If you insist on ranking colleges then do it properly and fairly. Weigh inputs and outputs equally and reduce the percentage weighting of categories such as “reputation” which, even under the best circumstances, is part fact and part fiction.

  • Henry

    The U.S. News rankings are ludicrous, we are all aware of that. However, the general public is very poor at evaluating ranking methodology and the various ways data can be manipulated to spin reality. As a consequence, many people perceive the ratings that U.S. News produces to be fundamentally accurate measures of an institution’s quality. Hey, ignorance is bliss…

    In many ways it really comes down to money, not quality. If Wesleyan had an endowment that totaled over one billion dollars it would surely be ranked right up there with Williams and Amherst (where it should be). Does any reasonably informed person truly believe that you actually receive a better education at any of the LACs ranked ahead of Wesleyan by U.S. News?

    Most important, U.S. News fails miserably when it comes to measuring outputs such as research quality, research grants awarded, number of graduates going on to earn doctoral degrees and scientific publication performance. These are areas where Wesleyan obliterates their peers, year after year.

    Ranking colleges numerically is a very bad idea, but it sells magazines for U.S. News (and others) so they keep producing the same highly flawed garbage year in and year out.

    If you insist on ranking colleges then do it properly and fairly. Weigh inputs and outputs equally and reduce the percentage weighting of categories such as “reputation” which, even under the best circumstances, is part fact and part fiction.

  • Anonymous

    yikes, talk about bitter. and nobody said the rankings didn’t matter — they just don’t mean anything. like vassar isn’t necessarily better than wesleyan now that it’s ranked higher.

  • Anonymous

    yikes, talk about bitter. and nobody said the rankings didn’t matter — they just don’t mean anything. like vassar isn’t necessarily better than wesleyan now that it’s ranked higher.

  • Anonymous

    Sheek, You are dismissing USNews rankings because Wes has dropped spots – but what if we rose in our rankings? I recall during my freshman year, Argus had a big headline for the first issue of the year, "Wesleyan re-gains entry into top ten liberal arts college ranking." Couple of points on the ranking matters and on how Wesleyan is not being transparent #1 USNews rankings matter. It's not designed for you or me, Sheek, who have experienced Wes firsthand. It's guidance for high school seniors who are looking to apply for colleges. The dirty secret is that: people choose colleges/companies not as a function of their own personal fit with the institution but as way a validation of their past accomplishments. Most HS seniors will opt for a prestigious college not because "this new england LAC is such a good fit," but because it's a "top 5 college," better than/as good as than my BFF/the valedictorian. Lower ranking means lower app number and lower selectivity, look at the past admission stat's on Wes admission site and you'll see the pattern. #2 The decrease of yield rateWhile the Wesleyan Connection/Admissions PR likes to tout that the Wesleyan has reached record app's, they are not telling the truth. The truth is, while our app numbers are growing, they are not *matching* up to the selectivity and application growth of our peer schools. In as little as four years, Grinnell and Vassar's selectivity rate have decreased from 50%, 35% respectively to 41% to 28%, while Wesleyan's selectivity have remained stagnant for '07-'11 despite record college app's submitted nationwide. (27%-26%) Why? It is because our yield rate for our accepted students have decreased *significantly* from 38% to 34.5% from '07-'11 (if I recall correctly, the yield rate used to be even higher early 2000's, around 40%) – meaning significantly less students are accepting Wesleyan's admission offer. If you refer to the admission class profile, you will also see consistent decrease in ED applications, from 15%-8% of the total applications submitted from '02-'12. While Vassar and Grinnell's yield rate have remained steadily at 37% and 28% (see USNews print edition). Every year, Wesleyan's Greg Pyke prepares the class profile with the yield rate. This year, the yield rate was mysteriously deleted from the final report to shove this inconvenient fact (see previous class' admission profiles with yield rate).#3 Lagging Endowment Performance and Resulting Poor Financial Aid and Compensation for Students/FacultyWhy is less students choosing Wesleyan, the-once "potted-ivy" as the school of choice? Because money talks and walks, and students are opting for peer schools because peer schools offer better financial packages. Again, Wesleyan PR likes to tout that the endowment is making stride and while this is true – given the financial condition that Wesleyan was in the early 1990's due to bad financial management, Wesleyan's investment funds had a near-impossible job of playing catch up. While the Wesleyan's funds grew at 25% rate increasing from 600+ million to 800+ million in 4 years. So did Amherst (1.1 billion to 1.7 billion), Williams (1.3 to 1.9 billion), and Grinnell (1.3 to 1.7 billion) in '05-'07 did at comparable rate (see Wikipedia page on University endowments). As a result, as ivy league universities and other selective colleges flush with cash offer full-ride and significantly discounted tuition not only to <$40K household students but also to <$120K household students, Wesleyan could not keep up. This has been demonstrated not only on the NYTimes cross-comparison of fin-aid packages of selective colleges where Wesleyan was ranked on the bottom (see the related Wesleying post). The poor endowment has also affected the retention of faculty, as evidenced by the faculty committee on this matter declaring that the University is not raising faculty compensation on par with peer schools (see Argus article on the matter). While on faculty retention, I do not have any concrete evidence. But of the anecdotal evidence I can bring up (hence less quantitative rigorious), is that University's tendency over the recent years to hire more visiting professors than tenure-track faculty in COL, Philosophy and Economics. Many tenure-track profs. denied tenure, despite their later qualifications for tenure at other institutions (Stanford, Yale, etc) after they left Wesleyan. Well, I could go on and tell you more about Wesleyan's financial condition by analyzing its financial balance sheet (you can check it out via the finance dept page). But I need to get some sleep before I go to work (my only hope is that my employer doesn't go under, because my Wesleyan degree is worthless anyways now …). – numbercrunchr

  • Anonymous

    Sheek,

    You are dismissing USNews rankings because Wes has dropped spots – but what if we rose in our rankings? I recall during my freshman year, Argus had a big headline for the first issue of the year, "Wesleyan re-gains entry into top ten liberal arts college ranking."

    Couple of points on the ranking matters and on how Wesleyan is not being transparent

    #1 USNews rankings matter. It's not designed for you or me, Sheek, who have experienced Wes firsthand. It's guidance for high school seniors who are looking to apply for colleges. The dirty secret is that: people choose colleges/companies not as a function of their own personal fit with the institution but as way a validation of their past accomplishments. Most HS seniors will opt for a prestigious college not because "this new england LAC is such a good fit," but because it's a "top 5 college," better than/as good as than my BFF/the valedictorian. Lower ranking means lower app number and lower selectivity, look at the past admission stat's on Wes admission site and you'll see the pattern.

    #2 The decrease of yield rate
    While the Wesleyan Connection/Admissions PR likes to tout that the Wesleyan has reached record app's, they are not telling the truth. The truth is, while our app numbers are growing, they are not *matching* up to the selectivity and application growth of our peer schools. In as little as four years, Grinnell and Vassar's selectivity rate have decreased from 50%, 35% respectively to 41% to 28%, while Wesleyan's selectivity have remained stagnant for '07-'11 despite record college app's submitted nationwide. (27%-26%) Why? It is because our yield rate for our accepted students have decreased *significantly* from 38% to 34.5% from '07-'11 (if I recall correctly, the yield rate used to be even higher early 2000's, around 40%) – meaning significantly less students are accepting Wesleyan's admission offer. If you refer to the admission class profile, you will also see consistent decrease in ED applications, from 15%-8% of the total applications submitted from '02-'12. While Vassar and Grinnell's yield rate have remained steadily at 37% and 28% (see USNews print edition). Every year, Wesleyan's Greg Pyke prepares the class profile with the yield rate. This year, the yield rate was mysteriously deleted from the final report to shove this inconvenient fact (see previous class' admission profiles with yield rate).

    #3 Lagging Endowment Performance and Resulting Poor Financial Aid and Compensation for Students/Faculty

    Why is less students choosing Wesleyan, the-once "potted-ivy" as the school of choice? Because money talks and walks, and students are opting for peer schools because peer schools offer better financial packages. Again, Wesleyan PR likes to tout that the endowment is making stride and while this is true – given the financial condition that Wesleyan was in the early 1990's due to bad financial management, Wesleyan's investment funds had a near-impossible job of playing catch up. While the Wesleyan's funds grew at 25% rate increasing from 600+ million to 800+ million in 4 years. So did Amherst (1.1 billion to 1.7 billion), Williams (1.3 to 1.9 billion), and Grinnell (1.3 to 1.7 billion) in '05-'07 did at comparable rate (see Wikipedia page on University endowments). As a result, as ivy league universities and other selective colleges flush with cash offer full-ride and significantly discounted tuition not only to <$40K household students but also to <$120K household students, Wesleyan could not keep up. This has been demonstrated not only on the NYTimes cross-comparison of fin-aid packages of selective colleges where Wesleyan was ranked on the bottom (see the related Wesleying post). The poor endowment has also affected the retention of faculty, as evidenced by the faculty committee on this matter declaring that the University is not raising faculty compensation on par with peer schools (see Argus article on the matter).

    While on faculty retention, I do not have any concrete evidence. But of the anecdotal evidence I can bring up (hence less quantitative rigorious), is that University's tendency over the recent years to hire more visiting professors than tenure-track faculty in COL, Philosophy and Economics. Many tenure-track profs. denied tenure, despite their later qualifications for tenure at other institutions (Stanford, Yale, etc) after they left Wesleyan.

    Well, I could go on and tell you more about Wesleyan's financial condition by analyzing its financial balance sheet (you can check it out via the finance dept page). But I need to get some sleep before I go to work (my only hope is that my employer doesn't go under, because my Wesleyan degree is worthless anyways now …).

    – numbercrunchr

  • Anonymous

    i like how US news says that the best way to use the rankings is to look at the actual data. anyone else think that sounds like a fancy way of saying “the ratings are meaningless”?

  • Anonymous

    i like how US news says that the best way to use the rankings is to look at the actual data. anyone else think that sounds like a fancy way of saying “the ratings are meaningless”?

  • Anonymous

    yeah, but even our bloggers feel the need to comment on it.

  • Anonymous

    yeah, but even our bloggers feel the need to comment on it.

  • Anonymous

    I wish we had the willpower of Reed.

  • Anonymous

    I wish we had the willpower of Reed.