GW springs back into U.S. News’ top 50

GW won’t be printing any pins this time.

After a second-tier rating last year, GW rose into the 50th slot on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 50 national universities in the nation, released last week.

But GW administrators are taking a lower profile about the rankings than they did two years ago when GW broke the top-tier barrier.

GW was ranked 46th in the 1996-’97 academic year and many administrator’s lapels sported a pin with the slogan, “GW is 46th.”

“It’s nice to be (on the list),” said GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. “I’m just not opening any champagne over it.”

GW’s fall from No. 46 to the second tier in the U.S. News rankings last year may have tempered the excitement.

“The ranking is simply one tool in a student’s decision to attend a university,” said Michael O’Leary, senior associate director of undergraduate admissions. “Although being in the top 50 is better than not being in it, it just validates what we as a community already know.”

Factors that contribute to GW’s climb into the top tier of schools in the nation include alumni donations, higher recruitment standards and money spent on students, said Cindy Schaller, a U.S. News research analyst.

GW is ranked 44th in the best value category.

Since college rankings began in the early 1980s, they have been the subject of intense scrutiny and skepticism from critics who believe the methods used to determine the “best” schools in the nation are less than fair and objective.

“These guys were wrong when they didn’t list us in the top 50,” Trachtenberg said. “I never thought that we should make too much of the (rankings) because it’s a very flawed system. It’s got a degree of arbitrariness to it that makes it a little absurd.”

University rankings can be interpreted in many ways, O’Leary said, and much of the criticism stems from the fact that these rankings tend to overlook the human factor – the way a student will fit into a university.

Trachtenberg also said some of the methods used in the rankings are like comparing “apples to oranges.”

But the U.S. News Web site reports the weekly newsmagazine used core categories in which every school wants to excel. Categories like graduation rates, reputation, retention rate and peer evaluations from other schools comprise most of the criteria.

Many universities and colleges balk at the ranking system because a school can be relegated to a less desirable second-tier ranking for lack of a few percentage points, Schaller said.

“GW was really close to getting into the top 50 last year,” Schaller said. “The rankings are close throughout the list, not just at the bottom.”

Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities tied for first place this year.

Schaller points out college guides and rankings are only one of several resources students use to select schools. Schaller said research shows virtually no student relies solely on rankings when choosing a college.

Sandy Holland, GW’s executive director of University relations, said the ranking is simply “frosting on the cake” and GW will continue to follow its own goals, rankings aside.

“The ranking is good for the students and for the alumni, and if some magazine recognizes what we were doing all along, that’s so much the better,” Holland said.

Holland said GW will aim for better student recruitment, increased retention rates and a higher caliber of faculty. Many administrators are taking a cautious approach to the recent boost in reputation, viewing the ranking as a sign that GW is simply on the right track.

“It’s got to be taken with a little caution,” Trachtenberg said. “We are not swooning – we never doubted who we were, our mission or our direction.”

But Trachtenberg predicts GW is likely to go up in the rankings and will only get stronger.

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