Georgetown may want to reconsider canceling its subscription to U.S. News and World Report.
The U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges rankings were recently published, with Georgetown slipping one spot to No. 22 among national colleges and universities (The Hoya, Sept. 16, 2011). Although the national rankings provide a general overview of the higher education options available in the country, there are several shortcomings in the methodologies that may not reflect the true personality and quality of those schools.
For the most part, rankings focus on quantifying relevant data, such as freshmen retention rates, graduation rates, faculty resources and standardized test scores. These are some of the best available statistical indicators of prospective student qualifications and the resulting strength of the student body.
Yet some of the factors used by U.S. News and World Report merely provide incentive for schools to game their way to higher rankings. Georgetown does not use the Common Application, which undoubtedly deters some high school students from applying at the get-go. As a result, Georgetown artificially appears to be less selective than other universities.
Another factor working against Georgetown is its late endowment development. Our Jesuit founders were more concerned with sending students to school through financial aid immediately, putting the creation of an endowment on the back burner until the election of former University President Leo O’Donovan in 1989. In fact, Georgetown’s endowment is the second smallest of any top-25 school — ahead of only Carnegie Mellon — and 61st among all ranked colleges and universities.
In order to better reflect the qualities that make a university or college great, U.S. News and World Report should re-evaluate its current methodology. While financial resources and admissions selectivity may be an indicator of a top-tier school, they are not reliable characteristics in their current quantifiable form. Furthermore, the heavier-weighted aspects should include more intangible assets of a university — the variety of courses offered, the benefits of location, the quality of its specialization programs — in order to present a fuller view of colleges and universities across the country.
The intangibles that the rankings leave out are what make all the difference in choosing the right school. Georgetown’s dedication to social justice, the Jesuit presence, prime location in Washington, D.C. and lack of Greek life are all alluring factors to many students who choose Georgetown.
Additionally, academic programs — or at least academic options available — are really what should drive a university’s appeal. The School of Foreign Service, School of Nursing and Health Studies and McDonough School of Business provide students with a liberal arts core while allowing them to pursue more specialized focuses. Students also apply to the College for its excellent reputation and curricular flexibility within its core requirements.
University Provost James O’Donnell was correct when noting that within the top 20 rated schools the exact rankings are often arbitrary. In order to find the best collegiate experience, students need to take the time to look beyond the numbers.