No matter what background they come from, all Seattle University students have one thing in common: they all decided to come here.
Some transferred from other places, but most made their decision during their senior year of high school. Most will remember it as a choice that required the weighing of a lot of different factors and options.
A recent study attempts to analyze the extent to which college rankings impact that decision. New York researchers Molly Alter and Randall Reback recently published “Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis: True for Your School? How Changing Reputations Alter Demand for Selective U.S. Colleges.” The report attempts to gauge the influence reviews from publications like The Princeton Review or U.S. News & World Report have.
As referenced in The Seattle Times, an academic ranking in the top 20-25 increases the applicant pool by 2.3-10 percent. The study also showed that quality of life rankings do affect the size of the applicant pool, although facets of that topic don’t seem to affect it either way. For example, a school’s number of applicants probably wouldn’t be any different if it was ranked a party school versus if it was ranked as a sober campus.
According to The Princeton Review, Seattle U makes it into the list of the top 378 colleges, is noted as one of the “Best Western Colleges,” and is ranked #19 on The Princeton Review’s “This is a Library?” list.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Seattle U as number six on the list of Regional University West Rankings, a report including 137 entries.
But when it comes down to it, how credible are these ratings? The authors of the recent study found that many of these rankings aren’t based on much other than unscientific survey. And yet, these published rankings are an incredibly powerful influence over the college decision.
The researchers themselves conclude in their final paragraph that “it may be in the public interest for an independent organization to review the practices of these guidebooks and websites to assess the objectivity of their content.”
Even though the credibility of these rankings is oftentimes questionable, the schools and programs that receive these ratings are desperate for good ones. Administration at Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle U last week sent out an impassioned email to students urging them to fill out a survey for Businessweek to get Albers included in the 2014 Best Undergraduate Business School rankings.
Assistant Dean Teresa Ling’s email concluded saying: “We need your participation in this student survey. Otherwise we will not be ranked and nobody will know about the great things we do.” Ling had originally received an email from Businessweek themselves, saying that Albers might not make the list.
However, their absence from the report would be due to lack of survey response from Seattle U students, not necessarily poor performance on Albers’ part. The fact that some schools are excluded because not enough students take the survey raises concerns for some as to how objective and encompassing the rankings really are.
Considering whether or not a college ranking is an accurate representation of a school’s merits or demerits, Dr. Ling said “it might not [be],” but that it still matters “on the other hand, because the parents and the students might be looking for that.”
Seattle U sophomores Katie Hogan, Allison Meyer, and Nickolena Milne-Cooper all agree that while they knew Seattle U had rankings, they weren’t a large part of their decision to go to school here. They say that they were influenced by other factors, such as location and program types.
Sophomore Elizabeth Mather agrees, but adds that for her the rankings were useful, because she’s from out of state and hadn’t even heard about Seattle U until she saw it on a list.
Freshman Olivia Hiles said that rankings were “not really” a factor in her university decision. She said that’s because a lot of the schools on the lists she saw were larger universities and she didn’t want one of those.
“Even though other schools might be higher… it wasn’t for me,” she said.
Regardless of the fact that rankings may not impact everyone’s choice and despite any lingering questions of their credibility, no school wants to get left behind with bad or absent ratings–probably due to the room it leaves for assumptions. If there aren’t good rankings, or if there’s a lack of rankings, people might think it’s for different reasons than it actually is.
“They might assume we are not as good,” said Ling.