US News and World Report, The Daily Beast in conjunction with College Prowler, and Forbes have released their most recent 2012 rankings for universities including Wesleyan. The University was ranked number 17, number 21, and number 20 by US News, The Daily Beast, and Forbes, respectively.
Wesleyan’s ranking as the 17th best liberal arts college in America was a significant drop from last year’s rankings, when Wesleyan was awarded the number 12 spot. Overall, 178 liberal arts colleges were ranked in 2012.
US News considers several factors when ranking schools, including undergraduate academic reputation, determined by both a peer assessment survey and ratings given by high school counselors; selectivity, determined partly by acceptance rate and standardized test scores of the incoming class; faculty resources, determined partly by average faculty compensation and class sizes; graduation and retention rates; and financial resources per student.
Some University administrators, including President Michael Roth, speculated that measuring financial resources per student as a factor in rankings may have harmed Wesleyan’s ranking this year.
“Wesleyan has reduced its budget in recent years by $25 million as part of a plan to ensure a more sustainable future, but the US News formula rewards more spending,” Roth said. “We don’t see this as a good model, particularly at a time when colleges and universities need to hold down tuition increases.”
Financial resources per student determine 10 percent of a college’s ranking, according to US News’ methodology.
Director of Media Relations Lauren Rubenstein, Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson, and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Meislahn all declined to comment on the University’s rankings for this article.
Some students feel that US News’ methodology, though not ideal, could be worse.
“For all of its faults, the US News uses numbers that are hard to argue with,” Patrick Sarver ’14 said. “It’s good and bad, because it rests on the idea that the value of a college can be quantified.”
US News also awarded the University the number 13 “best high school counselor ranking” with a score of 4.4 out of 5 based on rankings by individual counselors from top-ranked high schools.
US News also named Wesleyan the number 21 “best value school,” a ranking that takes into account a school’s academic quality as determined by US News, as well as the 2011-2012 net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of need-based financial aid.
For some students, such a measure is too arbitrary.
“Best value completely depends on the education itself,” Ismet Jooma ’14 said. “If you’re majoring in something we don’t specialize in as opposed to something like film or music, that will impact the value a lot.”
Forbes awarded the University the number 21 spot among the overall best colleges in America and the number 20 spot among the top private colleges in America. Unlike US News, Forbes considers a school’s student satisfaction, measured in large part by reviews on RateMyProfessor.com; post-graduate success, measured partly in terms of the salaries of alumni as reported by Payscale.com; student debt; four-year graduation rates; and academic success, measured by the number of students winning “nationally competitive awards” and by the percentage of alumni who earn PhDs.
Some students feel such criteria are unfair. Sarver explained that in his opinion, the percentage of alumni who earn PhDs is not always a true marker of success.
“It lends credence to the idea that formal education exists predominantly to create professors,” Sarver said.
Jooma also said that markers such as whether a graduate earns a PhD may not necessarily be a measure of that graduate’s success.
“Today, getting a PhD or a master’s doesn’t guarantee you a job,” Jooma said.
Students have criticized other aspects of Forbes’ ranking method as well.
“It seems like a very academic way to measure the school,” Rehan Mehta ’14 said. “It doesn’t take any social aspects into consideration, like how active a student body we have.”
Jooma added that Forbes has a flawed way of measuring success.
“A lot of people go straight from Wesleyan into non-profits, so you can’t expect to be making millions as soon as you graduate,” Jooma said.
According to The Daily Beast in partnership with College Prowler, Wesleyan ranks number 15 on the list of the nation’s most liberal colleges. To determine the political leanings of a school, The Daily Beast considered data collected by College Prowler on the percentage of students who deem their school “liberal” or “very liberal.” The Daily Beast considered diversity of the student body as a tiebreaker.
Some students question whether the University deserves such a high rating.
“From what I’ve heard, it used to be a lot more liberal, but now it’s getting more diverse in its representations,” Mehta said. “For the most part, conservatives are less vocal. It’s hip to be liberal. I think there are more conservatives than we see and hear.”
Other students feel the University deserves an even higher ranking. Jooma noted that with an open curriculum and a diverse student body, we are more liberal than our peer institutions.
“In terms of the student body, we have a very good percentage of kids from different ethnicities and backgrounds,” Jooma said.
The Daily Beast also ranked Wesleyan the seventh most stressful school. To determine the stress levels of a school, The Daily Beast considered the total price of attendance, the percentage of students receiving financial aid, the average amount of financial aid per pupil, and the selectivity of a school based on the average SAT or ACT score and the percentage of applicants admitted.
Each campus crime record for the last three years was factored in as a bonus percentage. Wesleyan ranked first in terms of crime out of the schools considered.
“[Wesleyan is not stressful] for me, but I can see how it can be stressful with rising costs,” Mehta said.
Jooma agreed that stress at the University varies greatly.
“If you want to get the most out of your education, in terms of price per class, you do want to take as many classes as you can to maximize your utility, so it’s really up to the student how stressful it can be,” Jooma said.
Some students question the reliability and usefulness of ranking schools at all.
“Trying to standardize schools across the nation with diverse backgrounds and in diverse settings is in the long run futile in that you’re really comparing apples to oranges,” Jason Shatz ’14 said.
Sarver echoed those thoughts.
“[The ranking system] takes something very complex and makes it seem very simple,” Sarver said. “I don’t think it’s intentionally misleading, but it may be misleading nonetheless.”