College ranking not rising as predicted relative to peers

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The much anticipated US News and World Report college rankings report for 2018 have recently come out, and Muhlenberg isn’t doing too well.

Muhlenberg currently ranks #71 after previously ranking #81 in 2012 and #64 in 2015. This dip in ranking is not only disappointing to many on campus, but a bit surprising as well.

“I’m shocked,” reacted Mel Carmilani ‘20. “I honestly thought we would be ranked higher.”

The ranking is based on data collected from high school counselors, polls from college presidents and provosts at peer institutions, as well as some raw numbers like admissions acceptance rates, freshman year retention rates and graduation rates.

Mathematics professor Eugene Fiorini cautions that the creators and executors of the ranking system have limited mathematical and scientific background. Specifically, “there is nothing statistical or scientific in their approach.”

So why even bother talking about a seemingly flawed way of qualifying a school’s worth?

Deserved or not the ranking comes with prestige. And as many students can attest when searching for colleges, ranking tools are a resource for choosing a school.

The US News and World Report rankings are also used by prospective employers, who may be unfamiliar with some smaller colleges and use it as a way to gauge the rigour and overall prestige of an applicant.

Lastly, and most importantly, colleges and universities across the U.S. also advertise their rankings as a way to sell themselves.

Ranking systems are notorious for allowing preconceived notions and existing reputations of educational institutions dictate, or at the very least influence, the outcomes of their rankings.

In other words, the rankings exist to endorse an already existing, long standing reputation; ensuring a self fulfilling prophecy. Which is why we find validity in them, because they confirm our own preconceived opinions. “Prestige can be a weighted term,” said Bill Keller, Executive Director of Communications. “It’s often as much about perception as reality.”

It’s hard to not take this ranking personally, but it’s also important to understand all of the factors that go into theoretically make this ‘objective’ a qualitative value. Furthermore, why is it even worth taking seriously. As such, what should we do about it?

“As a member of the Alumni board,” said Kait Ely ‘19, “something highly discussed in our meetings is increasing alumni engagement once students leave campus. I think something that can be worked on between the college and graduates is maintaining that special bond which increases job opportunities and necessary donations to the school.”

It’s an idea certainly worth considering since the alumni giving rate theoretically makes up 5 percent of US News and World Report’s criteria.

Due to the ambiguous approach to the rankings, it is hard to know exactly why Muhlenberg scored 62/100. That said President Williams has assured the Muhlenberg campus that his office is looking into potential causes of this lower ranking.

“Many institutions ranked above us — and some tied with us — have larger endowment values per student than Muhlen- berg, which means we have to be more strategic than some in making our resources effective,” said President Williams.

“This is one reason why it is so important for us to tell our story and have Muhlenberg become more widely known,” said President Williams. An idea that Bill Keller is in agreement with.

“We’re doing a lot on this front from [the communications] office, including several recent and ongoing hires to tell the Muhlenberg story more broadly and powerfully. We’re in the first year of a new communication strategy as well, which we’re excited to say is helping refine the process of how we share the Muhlenberg experience more effectively,” Keller said.

Ranking systems can exist as a useful tool in direct quantitative ways. But ultimately, it is incredibly challenging to quantify the ‘value’ of a particular school in comparison to the other in a statistical/mathematical setting.

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