Georgetown dropped one spot in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings Tuesday, coming in at 22nd on the annual list after swapping spots with the University of California, Berkeley.
In a separate list of rankings based on high school counselor evaluations, Georgetown slipped from sixth to a tie for ninth. Georgetown also ranks 26th on a list of “Best Value” schools.
University administrators gave little credence to the magazine’s latest evaluations, however.
“[The U.S. News rankings] are just their opinion based on a random set of numbers,” said Charles Deacon, dean of undergraduate admissions.
University Provost James O’Donnell agreed, saying the rankings fail to tell the whole story.
“It would be inappropriate for us to change our behavior just because we want our ranking to change, because they are such an imperfect science,” O’Donnell said. “At the same time, because they have a large visibility, it would be silly for us not to pay any attention to them at all.”
O’Donnell said he still believes the top-25 status remains a significant distinction, as it helps in donation solicitation and faculty recruitment.
“If you’re right around 20th, you could really belong anywhere from 15th to 25th,” O’Donnell said. “The basket of universities that we’re more or less clumped with on the list feels about right.”
Deacon said that he considers Georgetown a top-10 school, citing in-house analysis on how the university fares when accepted students are choosing between it and other institutions.
“We will beat every school except one that’s ranked ahead of us between 11 and 21,” Deacon said. “That’s why we don’t worry so much about these rankings. It turns out that the schools that we have the greatest overlap with in terms of admitting students where it was a close competition is Duke and Penn.”
To calculate the rankings, U.S. News uses a complex formula that weighs many factors including peer evaluations by other universities, high school counselor ratings, freshman retention rate, six-year graduation rate, class sizes, faculty pay and credentials, admissions selectivity and financial resources.
One of the biggest inhibiting factors for Georgetown’s U.S. News ranking is its relatively small endowment. At just over $1 billion, Georgetown’s endowment amounts to the smallest among top-25 schools.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we use our dollars well,” O’Donnell said. “We like to say that we punch above our weight. I think it’s a mark of achievement that we get to be a top-25 school with the amount of money that we have.”
Another category of “academic reputation” is calculated through surveys given to university administrators and high school counselors. Each university’s president, provost and dean of admissions is given a survey, although Deacon and O’Donnell said they decline to participate.
“When I get that survey and am asked to rank Alabama State University, I know nothing about that,” Deacon said. “I’ve been advocating for more high school counselor evaluations for a long time because they know a lot more about different colleges than we do. That’s their job.”
Critics of the ranking have long noted that there are ways for universities to game the system. Deacon said that Georgetown does not engage in such activity, but he noted how easily admissions data can be manipulated.
For example, under its Early Action admissions system, Georgetown has an 18 percent freshman acceptance rate. According to Deacon, if the university were to switch to the binding Early Decision system utilized at many other institutions, the acceptance rate would drop to around 13 percent. Using the Common Application — which Georgetown does not do — is another way to expand applicant pools and deflate acceptance rates.
“It seems our applicants don’t buy into these U.S. News ratings,” Deacon said.
However, he added that he worries that the rankings misrepresent Georgetown to students who may not have as much access to other information about colleges.
“Unfortunately, we also want more of the students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who don’t have as much guidance, and to them we say that we’re underrated,” he said.