U.S. News ranking draws bittersweet reactions

Jonathan Stow

For the University, 13 is a pretty lucky number.

For the 13th year in a row, U.S. News and World Report ranked Villanova first among all Northern universities in its “Masters” category, which contains colleges that are not considered national universities because they do not offer specific doctoral programs. The ranking recently appeared in U.S. News’ 2003 edition of its annual “America’s Best Colleges” issue.

“It’s great recognition for the University. It’s a national announcement in a national publication, so it really puts a spotlight on [Villanova],” Steve Merritt, dean of Enrollment Management, said.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the rankings are determined by two distinct criteria: “[The ranking system] relies on quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and it is based on our nonpartisan view of what matters in education.”

These “indicators of academic quality” include assessment of the university by its peers, retention of students beyond freshman year, faculty resources, financial resources, student selectivity and alumni giving. Each of these indicators is weighted, and a school’s final score is the weighted sum of the scores in all of the aforementioned categories. The top school receives a score of 100, as the University has continued to accomplish year after year.

One aspect of the U.S. News rankings system that has become a point of contention within the University is the use of the Carnegie Foundation’s classification system for categorizing schools. In this system, colleges and universities are grouped together by “mission,” which means they are grouped by the levels of degrees offered.

The University has, for the past several years, been categorized as a non-national “Masters” university. Within the Masters subdivision, schools are also divided regionally, as it is assumed that the majority of these colleges and universities do not attract many students from outside of that particular region.

Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., vice president of Student Life, commented on how many members of the University community see these rankings as misleading. “Unfortunately, the list doesn’t tell the whole story. We’re not a regional university; we’re a national university,” Stack said, “At the same time, we’d obviously rather be first on a list of top schools than 70th or 80th. We know what our niche is.”

Stack said that he views the University’s niche as being that of an average-sized school that focuses on undergraduate education, with small classes, excellent student-to-teacher ratios and very few graduate assistants teaching classes.

Stack commented on the possibility that several doctoral programs may be added to the University’s curriculum in the near future. However, he said the decision “will be based on what is best for the University, not on our position in the rankings.”

Despite its non-national status in the rankings, the University continues to draw applicants from all 50 states and from over 40 international locations. “People perceive us as a regional university, but our national presence has been, and still is, very strong,” Merritt said. “We’re pleased to be number one, but we want to remind people that we are as national a university as any other.”

“We’ve always stressed the importance of our current students, and their academic achievements. We’d rather tell our own story, rather than let a poll tell it,” Merritt said.