The U.S. News World and Report rankings extended numerically for the first time beyond 50 to include the top 123 schools, no longer lumping all “second tier” schools together. The change is important for GW, which, since falling out of the top 50 a few years ago, has been grouped with schools with worse reputations. For example, GW and American University were apparent equals last year, both ranked as second tier schools, but this year GW is ranked 51 while American is 99.
Although U.S. News acknowledges that GW was in fact 52 last year, it is good to actually see that the University is on the brink of the top 50 – almost painfully cruel at 51. U.S. News editors say there is no meaningful statistical difference between schools in the middle 40s and early 50s. The extended rankings take away much of the meaning of “top 50” status.
Administrators and students should not fret over the difference between 49 and 51, and should feel safe that GW is improving academically if not rank-wise. Applications are up, average SAT scores keep rising and the infrastructure has been enhanced.
While there needs to be some way to rank schools, it will never be a perfect system. Instead, it is a general guide to compare schools on the broad scale – although it is questionable whether to rank small private schools and giant state schools in the same category.
While we agree in spirit with University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s jest that the magazine’s rankings are “scandalous,” and U.S. News “got it wrong” by ranking GW 50 places lower than it should been, the rankings are not far from reality.
The silver lining is that a rank of 51 should still leave the administration hungry for something to prove.