By Katie Zeck
It’s that time of year again: The leaves are changing, students are opting for a wardrobe of scarves and Uggs and colleges and universities across the country can heave a sigh of relief or grimace with disappointment with the unveiling of the various 2013 national and regional rankings of the nation’s best schools. This year, Rider responded to the rankings with mixed emotions.
Rider has slipped into a tie for 26th place on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Colleges in the Regional University North division, a five-spot shift from last year’s ranking of a tie for 21st. It was also ranked 568 on Forbes’ list of America’s 650 top four-year colleges and universities, 48 spots down from 520 last year.
There are 2,618 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the United States, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
This year, Rider shared the 26th spot on U.S. News’ list with Alfred University, Hood College, LaSalle University, Ramapo College of New Jersey and Wagner College. In 2011, Rider shared it’s ranking with Rowan University. Rowan has since moved up to 19th.
However, out of the 193 schools that were listed in Rider’s division, the only New Jersey colleges and universities that ranked higher than Rider were The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University. This leaves Rider ahead of 167 others in its division based on U.S. News’ methodology.
According to U.S. News’ website, the Washington D.C.-based news magazine ranks the colleges and universities in their respective regions based on quality and value.
The schools are divided into categories and then rated based on the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, a sorting system U.S. News has used for its rankings since 1983.
The regional university category that includes Rider, defines the schools in its division as four-year universities with full-range undergraduate programs, some master’s programs and few, if any, doctoral programs.
“We’ve more or less held our strong position within the top 20 to 30 Northeast regional universities for the last two years, after moving up from the 30s last year [on U.S. News’ Best Colleges list],” Dean of Students Anthony Campbell said. “While we’ve gained about six spots over the past five years, it’s not unusual for rankings to move up or down in any one year.”
Campbell says that the reason for these slight oscillations in ranking from year to year is because of the way U.S. News compiles the data it uses to rank the schools.
“There isn’t much separating the institutions ranked from about 15 to 35,” he said. “What our ranking consistently means is what we have known all along: that Rider is among the better regional universities in the Northeast. Still, it’s nice to have third parties like U.S. News affirm that.”
Comparatively, Rowan came in at 561 on Forbes’ list, 73 spots down from last year’s ranking of 488. TCNJ placed 175, one less from last year’s 174 and Montclair State University ranked 567, 39 spots down from 528.
In 2008, the first year of the Forbes ranking, Rider was 569.
According to an email from Jamie O’Hara, vice president of Enrollment Management, Forbes’ ranking is unique because its methodology includes participation of students and alumni from the nation’s various institutions. Much of this, he said, can explain the large differences in ranking from year to year on Forbes’ list.
“Shifts in this particular ranking will come from the pre-surveying activity that occurs from ratemyprofessors.com and payscale.com,” O’Hara said. “Both of these surveys are based on participation rates by students or alumni. Based on that participating level [high or low], a school can experience shifts. Ratemyprofessor.com is a collection of student opinions, and in no way speaks to the quality of the school or faculty.”
Forbes uses this participant-based data as a large component of a school’s overall score.
“Payscale.com is self-reported salary data and employment information,” O’Hara added.
“Alumni’s use of the payscale.com site will vary from year to year. I think these two areas within the methodology can account for the biggest swings on the survey.”
According to Forbes’ website, student evaluations from ratemyprofessors.com make up 17.5 percent of a school’s total score. Salaries of alumni from payscale.com make up 15 percent and the list of alumni in Marquis’ Who’s Who in America account for 10 percent of the total score.
Other survey considerations include four-year graduation rates, which make up 11.25 percent of a score, freshman to sophomore retention rate, which accounts for 10 percent and average federal student debt load, which adds up to 10 percent of the score.
U.S. News explained on its website that the schools it ranks are specifically rated based on 16 different “indicators of excellence.”
“Each factor is assigned a weight that reflects our judgment about how much a measure matters,” writers Robert Morse and Sam Flanigan state in their methodology description on U.S. News’ website.
The 16 factors include academic reputation, accounting for 25 percent of a university’s overall score; student retention, which is 25 percent of the score; faculty resources, a weight of 20 percent; student selectivity with 15 percent; financial resources, weighing 10 percent of the score and alumni giving 5 percent.
The weighted scores are then calculated. The schools are finally rescaled, appointing the highest scoring school with a value of 100 and recalculating the remaining schools’ scores as a proportion of that top score. The final sums are rounded and ranked in a descending order.
Overall, O’Hara feels that the various national rankings that are published don’t play a large role in representing the University to the public.
“Typically, prospective students are more influenced by parents, peers and guidance counselors,” he said. “Rider’s strong reputation and recommendations from currents students and alumni have more influence on interest in the University and enrollment numbers from year to year.”
Dean of Students Anthony Campbell attributes Rider’s increased ranking to the improvement the University has made in many of these indicators of academic excellence.
“The University is doing well overall, but [we have] also moved up in some of the more important categories that U.S. News looks at,” Campbell said. “For example, our numbers increased in freshmen retention rate and graduation rate in this year’s survey; U.S. News tracks a three-year average for both those statistics, and combined they make up one-quarter of a university’s score.”
Students have found their own reasoning for why they believe Rider received the rankings it did.
“I think Rider deserves to be ranked as one of the top schools in New Jersey for its division,” said junior Tiffany Morales. “I’m a part of the new popular music culture major and I feel that Rider is always trying to improve their existing programs and bring in new ones, such as my major. This probably helped with their ranking.”
Junior Dan McSwain added that he feels there are certain things Rider could do to raise its ranking for next year.
“I think if the University stays more in tune with the student body and advertises networking events better, we could get a higher rank on a list like Forbes’ [America’s Top Colleges] list.”
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