By Catalina Righter
For a small school like Washington College, a good reputation is a valuable asset. That reputation got a boost this year when WC broke into the the influential U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings in the catergory of National Liberal Arts Colleges.
Previously, the College was ranked at number 105 but now holds the number 100 spot. According to a press release from the school, “U.S. News & World Report ranked a total of 235 national liberal arts colleges and defined the top 174 as ‘Top Tier’ schools.”
Also according to the press release, WC has been named as an “A+ School for B+ Students,” which they describe as ‘schools where what [U.S. News & World Report] calls ‘nonsuperstars’ have a good chance of thriving and ‘where spirit and hard work could make all the difference to the admissions office.’”
Unlike other ranking systems which take into account student testimonials, this report relies mainly on hard data. Director of Media Relations Kay MacIntosh said, “They do their own independent rankings using data that every school has to report, from scholarship data to student-to-faculty ratio.”
According to the website of the U.S. News & World Report, their ranking is concerned with picking out colleges that offer the “best value for money.”
They acknowledge that factors like location and atmosphere of a college are very important, but according to the US News website, “if you combine the information on usnews.com with college visits, interviews and your own intuition, our rankings can be a powerful tool in your quest for the right college.”
Specifically, they rank schools based on a formula that “uses quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and it’s based on our researched view of what matters in education,” according to their website.
This begins by breaking down schools by their Carnegie Classification, a method used to put schools into similar groups by which they can be compared. WC falls into the category of Baccalaureate Colleges–Arts & Sciences according to the Carnegie website.
The U.S. News & World Report then translates this classification into one of their own, simpler categories using the Carnegie classification as a base. Their four groups are National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges.
WC is listed as a National Liberal Arts College. According to the U.S. News website, “National Liberal Arts Colleges focus almost exclusively on undergraduate education. They award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the arts and sciences.”
See more info on the methodology behind the ranking process at usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-us-news-calculated-the-rankings.
Four other colleges received the same ranking as WC in the list of best National Liberal Arts Colleges, coming in at number 100. These were Albion College, Hope College, St. John’s College, and Washington and Jefferson College.
While this ranking is an accomplishment for WC, it is not a straightforward or all encompassing one.
MacIntosh said that the WC administration has “sort of a love-hate relationship” with these rankings. “We know they’re influential and that to not be represented would be detrimental.”
On the other hand, these rankings can be frustrating for colleges because they’re based on “things out of our control,” she said. “It takes a long time and consistent patience to move the reputational needle. We’re here doing what we do. The administration and the faculty are doing what they do, but we can’t do a lot to change how they do their rankings.”
According to MacIntosh, at WC, “we fully report. We’re not trying to brag or game the system. It’s hard to predict how the rankings will move from year to year, but we truly are thrilled to be a part of the Top 100.”
Another population that this rating will effect beyond college administrators and students is alumni. Director of Alumni Relations and Leadership Annual Giving Rebekah Hock said, “It’s gratifying and encouraging to know this national college ranking organization is recognizing the excellence and relevance of a W C education.”
“I do believe it will have a positive effect on how alumni feel about their alma mater, and those reaffirming feelings could have financial implications in the future,” she said, though she also said this effect is “hard to quantify.”
For recent grads in the job search, she hopes that the ranking may look positive on a resume, but it is by no means the biggest factor. “From my perspective, I think the skills students learn at WC make them great candidates for jobs, and the ranking of the College in that year won’t necessarily have any bearing on that,” she said.