GW missed a coveted spot in the U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 national universities by a hair this year, tying with Pepperdine University in Califonia at 51.
Monday’s edition of U.S. News marks the first time the magazine numerically ranked schools that fell below the 50th spot. The publication previously listed universities ranked one to 50 as the “top tier,” and alphabetically listed the rest of the schools in the top half as the “second tier” and the remaining universities as the “third tier.”
The University was ranked 46th in 1998 but has failed to make the top 50 again since then.
Although second tier universities’ rankings were not available to the public before this year, U.S. News calculated each institution’s ranking and made it available to administrators.
GW ranked No. 52 last year, said U.S. News Director of Data Research Bob Morse.
Morse said there is “no meaningful difference statistical difference” between schools ranked between 45 and 52, and that GW has “always been close to the 50th position.”
The magazine changed its policy to numerically rank all institutions in the top half of the list this spring to ease public and administrative concerns. Morse said there are significant statistical differences between universities grouped in the second and third tiers, and U.S. News has “seriously” been considering changing its policy since last year.
Morse said at least 10 university presidents and top administrators expressed concern about the lack of numerical rankings for schools below the top 50, including GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
“(Administrators said) if the ranking methodology is good enough to publish the top 50, why is it not good enough to publish (those below the top 50?),” Morse said. “It is more useful to them.”
Morse and other members of the U.S. News staff met with Trachtenberg in spring 2002.
Trachtenberg said he is opposed to rankings in general, but made his argument to U.S. News, because “we live in the real world.”
“I used to always say to Morse, ‘It’s just not fair that if you’re going to do this silly business (you) then lump everybody else in alphabetical order. It’ll be a much more useful list to somebody who’s 51st and somebody who’s 96th (if they are numerically ranked,)” Trachtenberg said. “It took me five years of writing letters to (U.S. News) and pestering them (before something happened.)”
U.S. News calculates its rankings through seven categories – peer assessment, retention rate, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rate.
Morse said U.S. News emphasizes “outputs,” including retention and graduation rate, because they reflect the products of a university. Combined, the categories make up a quarter of a university’s rank.
GW has become more selective each year and improved several of its facilities and resources within the past several years, but has yet to move up.
Out of 248 universities, GW ranked 24th in alumni giving rate, 45th in student selectivity, 50th in retention rate, 58th in peer assessment, 62nd in financial resources, 109th in faculty resources and 147th in graduation rate performance.
But areas in which the University ranked highly account for only 20 percent of the overall rating; among them alumni giving at 5 percent and selectivity at 15 percent.
Although administrators often skirt the question of whether GW makes a direct effort to improve its rank, they said they are constantly trying to improve the University, and a higher position on U.S. News’ list could result from that effort.
Morse said it is possible GW will reenter the top 50 in the near future.
“Could GW become more selective? Yes. Could it do a better job of retention? Yes. Increase the school’s budget? Yes. Reduce student-teacher ratio? Yes. Could that change those rankings? Yes,” Morse said.
While some students said they understand the need for rankings, Trachtenberg is opposed to the idea in general because it “makes something artistic scientific.”
Trachtenberg compared rankings to a date with his wife where he ordered a delicious steak, and his wife ordered a dish she did not like. If one of the Trachtenbergs were writing a review of the restaurant, it would come out differently depending on who wrote it.