LU ranked highly among nation’s best colleges

Maureen Darras

Lawrence University was reviewed this summer in an array of publications, including Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review and CBS These rankings highlighted the shifting foci in data being collected by raters and sought for by parents, students and educators.
Lawrence was ranked 50th in the third annual Forbes Special Report “America’s Best Colleges,” published Aug. 11. This Forbes ranking includes 610 institutions of higher education.
The article accompanying the ranking noted that as those 610 institutions constitute merely nine percent of the accredited postsecondary schools in the U.S., even appearing on the list is a high honor. The top spot on the ranking went to Williams College, a liberal arts school located in Williamstown, Mass.
The Forbes ranking is based on a variety of considerations, no single factor accounting for as much as 20 percent in a school’s ranking. The breadth of these factors allows for Forbes to consider a bevy of educational institutions.
However, the article acknowledges that one can “only learn so much from ranking schools” and that individual student compatibility is an important factor that the rankings cannot necessarily encompass.
This sentiment was echoed by Lawrence Director of Admissions Ken Anselment: “It’s more important to consider Lawrence – or any other college for that matter – based on whether it offers the academic, cultural, and physical environment that fits you.”
Added Anselment, “The rankings are nice to talk about, and we all talk about them, but they are imperfect instruments when it comes to ascertaining individual and institutional fit.”
President Jill Beck also cautioned, “Some rankings disadvantage precisely what LU features as strengths. For example, [U.S. News & World Report] will not count individual tutorials or private music lessons in their category ‘number of small classes.’ A small class for them must have two people in it. So in this ranking system [Lawrence] looks as though we offer many fewer small classes than we actually do, since much of our work, one-on-one, is excluded by their system of counting.”
Similarly, in the “Student Nationally Competitive Awards” category, Forbes considers the number of winners per school of nine competitive student awards, a list that includes prestigious awards such as The Rhodes Scholarship and The Harry S. Truman Scholarship. However, this list notably does not include the Watson Fellowship or the Fulbright scholarship, which has been granted to 15 Lawrence students since 2001.
Lawrence was ranked 36th in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges: High School Counselor Rankings of National Liberal Arts Colleges,” published Sept. 8.
U.S. News & World Report composes various rankings aimed at a wide audience, ranging from a list of the best schools for B students to best value lists for national universities. In this report, Lawrence was ranked 36th alongside nine other institutions, including St. Olaf College, a liberal arts college in Northfield, Minn. and Beloit College, a liberal arts college in Beloit, Wis.
Beck noted, “We want to be on the radar of the guidance counselors in the nation’s top . high schools, so their recognition factor of Lawrence is good.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted the discrepancies between criteria used by various ranking systems to define the quality of an education in its Aug. 29 article “30 Ways to Rate a College.”
The article stated, “Much of the emphasis is on ‘input measures’ such as student selectivity, faculty-student ratio, and retention of freshmen. Except for graduation rates, almost no ‘outcome measures,’ such as whether a student comes out prepared to succeed in the work force, are used.”
CBS took “outcome measures” into account, having ranked Lawrence at 37 in “Top 50 Schools That Produce Science PhDs,” published Sept. 1. The data, compiled by the National Science Foundation, ranked 50 universities – 47 of which are private institutions.
The article accompanying the ranking concluded that students at liberal arts colleges benefit from increased opportunity for undergraduate research and personal connections with professors – who are ultimately responsible for graduate school recommendations.
Despite the positive responses, Anselment remarked, “I believe that the case is that on most college campuses – and Lawrence is probably in this case – the people who pay most attention to the rankings are the ones that work at the colleges, not the people who are attending or considering attending the colleges.”
Beck also advised, “We should measure the work of our university in the ways that matter to us. We need to ask ourselves regularly what is most important to us in evaluating whether we are doing our job, accomplishing our mission, and how much success we are having.