While the rest of the Claremont Colleges celebrated their jumps in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 Best Colleges list, released Sept. 13, Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga was trying to explain to her students and faculty what caused the school’s unexpected drop from 23 last year to 29 this year.
After a little investigation, Bettison-Varga discovered the drop was based on faulty information.
“The error resulted from entering an incorrect percentage of first-years in the top ten percent of their high school class as ranked by their high schools,” Bettison-Varga wrote in an email to The Student Life. “We sent in 39 percent; it should have been 70 percent, similar to what it has been in the past.”
According to Bettison-Varga, Scripps requested that U.S. News recalculate the rankings based on the correct figures. Though Scripps has not yet heard back, Director of Data Research at U.S. News Bob Morse said that if a school provides faulty data, the listings will not be reevaluated.
“If a college made a mistake, we would not change the list,” Morse said. “The short version is that Scripps messed up. That’s the short version and the long version.”
Even with the inaccurate data, Bettison-Varga said she does not believe the lower ranking will significantly affect Scripps’s admissions this year.
“Campus visits are important and have been a strong decisive factor in students accepting the offer of admission at Scripps,” Bettison-Varga said. “Other factors include observing classes, types of majors and opportunities for leadership, true cost, campus location, and size.”
“This year’s change in this particular set of rankings does not affect these factors,” she added.
According to Morse, ranked schools are first categorized as universities or liberal arts colleges and then graded on sixteen different factors. These criteria include admissions data, financial resources, class sizes, alumni giving, student to faculty ratios, and reputation among academics. These factors are then weighted and schools are ranked in order of scores.
While all five of the Claremont Colleges were listed in the top fifty National Liberal Arts Colleges this year, Scripps was the only one of the five that dropped in ranking.
Pomona College moved up from seventh to fourth this year, a jump that Pomona President David Oxtoby said he does not expect will have much of an impact on admissions.
“I don’t expect a big difference between a number four and a number seven ranking on admissions, but perhaps beyond that point there is an effect,” Oxtoby wrote in an email to TSL. “We compete very effectively in admissions with the schools ranked in front of us, which is where we want to be.”
Oxtoby also emphasized that moving up in rankings is not Pomona’s number one priority.
“We are always trying to make the education we offer even stronger and to get the word out about Pomona,” Oxtoby said. “If that has the additional consequence of moving us up in the rankings, of course we will be happy.”
Claremont McKenna College (CMC) experienced a similar jump, moving up from eleventh last year to ninth this year. CMC President Pamela Gann said that while she was pleased that her school received this recognition, the rankings do not account for everything.
“These rankings do not measure some areas in which CMC does exceptionally well, such as our rate of student employment at graduation or the number of internships held by CMC students over the summer months,” Gann wrote in an email.
Harvey Mudd College’s (HMC) ranking among liberal arts colleges remained constant at eighteenth. Its engineering program ranked first (tied with Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) among schools without Ph.D. programs. In the last five years the program has consistently been ranked first or second.
According to HMC President Maria Klawe, her school has seen an increase in applications in recent years, though she explained that this is not necessarily a result of the high rankings.
“[Rankings] certainly affect parent and student decisions about which colleges to consider. Colleges with high rankings get more applications,” President Maria Klawe wrote in an email to TSL. “On the other hand, our number of applications has increased by more than 50 percent over the last four years without any improvement in our ranking.”
HMC Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Thyra Briggs emphasized that rankings cannot take into account every facet of a school, adding that students look for different criteria during their individual college searches.
“Overall, I have to say that rankings are extremely frustrating,” Briggs wrote in an email, “I think it removes the most important element of college choice, the idea of fit between a student and an institution, from consideration.”
“The rankings make the assumption that all students and their families care about the same aspects of a college, and that’s simply not true,” she said.
Pitzer College, ranked at 46 last year, was 42 in this year’s rankings. According to Pitzer President Laura Skandera Trombley, with less than 50 years since Pitzer’s founding, her school is the youngest college to hold such a high ranking. It has also experienced the fastest upward movement of any college, moving from 70 to 42 in the past nine years, she said.
Skandera Trombley acknowledged that the rankings have had an impact on admissions, but added that they are most likely not the deciding factor.
“I think what has made a greater impact [than rankings] would be the strength of our academic programs, our position as the number one college for Fulbright Fellowships, our really ambitious campus plan for sustainable building, and, of course, our relationship to the Claremont Consortium,” Skandera Trombley said.
Morse acknowledged that the U.S News rankings are not all-inclusive.
“It’s a representation of a school based on the data points that we’ve chosen and the weights we’ve given,” Morse said. “Somebody else could choose other values and other weights and they’d come up with other results. It’s not the only way colleges can be compared, but it’s certainly one way.”