Rider Holds its Own: University recognized for academic excellence

by Kevin Whitehead
Rider has been largely successful in cultivating its reputation as a top-tier institution academically, though less so when it comes to students’ social lives, according to a new series of rankings.

Ramapo College of New Jersey–   NR, 25
Fairleigh Dickinson University–   601, 57
Rutgers University, Newark——   544, NR
St. Peter’s College——————   NR, 104
NJ Institute of Technology*——   582, NR
Rider University*——————  568, 36
The College of New Jersey*——-  285, 4
Monmouth University*———–   NR, 40
Rowan University——————   573, 23

Recent polls conducted by Forbes, The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report show that Rider is excelling in areas such as overall academic quality. However, The Princeton Review ranks Rider 19th in the “least happy students category.”

Forbes ranked Rider 568 out of 610 universities and colleges in “America’s Best Colleges.” The 610 colleges included in this study were considered the best of the 2,400 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. These ratings were “based on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve,” according to Forbes.

Rider ranked 589 in the Forbes poll for the 2009-2010 academic year and and 529 for 2008-2009.

Dean of Students Anthony Campbell noted the rankings were a good sign for Rider and said he was proud of the university’s continued success.

Regarding the Forbes ranking, Campbell said, “It’s like saying you’re in the bottom tier of the very best. I want to be with the very best.”

In the annual U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges survey, Rider was ranked as a Tier 1 school finishing 36th among 130 regional universities in the north. Qualifying schools were required to have undergraduate programs, master’s programs and some doctoral programs.
“To be one of the top schools in the Northeast in the category of master’s comprehensive is really what we want to be,” Campbell said.

Rider has fallen six spaces from last year’s rankings.However, Jamie O’Hara, vice president of Enrollment Manage­ment, and Dan Higgins, executive director of University Commu­nications, said in a joint e-mail that they are both pleased with the university’s rankings.

“This is the 11th consecutive year in which Rider has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top tier regional University and the seventh consecutive year as one of the top 15 percent best colleges by The Princeton Review,” they wrote. “This recognition of our success is a reflection on the hard work and dedication of the entire Rider community, including our faculty and staff, and, most certainly, of our students.”

Rider was also listed in The Princeton Review’s 2011 edition of The Best 373 Colleges. The list ranks the 373 top colleges and universities on a variety of criteria as reported by students. The categories include professor quality, amount of financial aid given and student satisfaction. The latter is of particular relevance for Rider, due to its relatively high spot in the “least happy students” category.

A lack of weekend activities could be the cause of low student morale, some students say, but others believe Rider still attempts to provide weekend programming with activities on the Campus Mall, in the Student Recreation Center (SRC) and Alumni Gym, not to mention a slew of sporting events.

Senior Patrick McDowell, a transfer student from Temple University, said there can always be more done to enhance the college experience.

“You can always have more activities. A lot of people tend to go out off campus, but that’s just the nature of things [here]. They had Date Night, Iron Man [on the Campus Mall] and Crabfest. That was fun, so they do have a lot of events.”

Campbell believes this ranking is misleading.

“I believe if you asked our students, you’ll find that they’re pretty happy,” Campbell said.

“When you see 600, 700 or so people at events that we put on, they certainly are participating.”

O’Hara and Higgins  agreed with Campbell in a joint e-mail.

“[We] think that Rider students are, on the whole, highly satisfied with the educational and student life experiences they are receiving here at Rider,” they wrote. “One of the most significant statistics to measure student satisfaction is the retention rate, which has grown to some 80 percent as compared to 74.4 percent nationally.”

Campbell, O’Hara and Higgins say that it is also important to keep in mind that The Princeton Review does not poll students annually.

“[The Princeton Review] typically surveys a campus every three years, and Rider students were last surveyed in the spring of 2008,” O’Hara and Higgins explained. “Dean Campbell is correct in saying that it is a voluntary survey, and for the most part, only those few who are dissatisfied tend to contact The Princeton Review during the years in which there is no survey. Princeton Review does not have a high response rate for the ‘Students Speak Out’ section in which this question appears, and therefore, the ‘Students Speak Out’ section of the rankings often does not reflect the overall feeling of the campus.”

O’Hara and Higgins said that while the university reviews the rankings and considers them among other factors, they do not “actively try to improve individual categories solely to improve our standing in the rankings.” They do, however,  often see an overlap with the goals of the university.

“Take, for example, U.S. News & World Report ranking some of the categories that comprise your overall rank such as admission profile, retention and graduation rates, and small class sizes,” they said. “These are factors that determine your overall rank – they are also areas in which we have improved every year. We are committed to advancing these aspects of the college experience not because of a ranking in a publication, but because they are important for student success.”

According to Campbell, the most important thing is how well students are prepared for the real world and the work force.

“I think the real value for any university is what the student makes of the experience that’s offered,” Campbell said. “Any college or university can offer a wide variety of experiences, but are the students able to take advantage of it?”

Rider’s statement — as inscribed on the website — reads, “At Rider, we focus on learning that meets your life.”

“One of the wonderful things about Rider is we do over a thousand internships a year,” Campbell said. “We have programs designed to give students experience.”

The smaller class size yields larger opportunity, Campbell said.

Senior Lonnie Bloom, an accounting major, concurred with Campbell’s remarks.

“You get a lot of opportunities here [at Rider],” Bloom said. “I feel like if I was at Rutgers, with the large class size, I wouldn’t be able to get the internships that I’ve been able to get.”

Additional reporting by Emily Landgraf

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