Survey says: GW students politically active, live in palaces

With categories such as “Top Party School,” “Most Religious Students” and “Best Campus Dorms,” the recent Princeton Review rankings leave many GW students wondering whether the subjective reviews are legitimate.

The 2004 edition of “The Best 351 Colleges” ranked GW third in “Students most politically active,” tenth in “Dorms like palaces” and tenth in “Great college towns.”

Princeton Review bases its rankings book mostly on 70-question student surveys, filled out over the past three years on paper and online. This year’s book is based on feedback from 106,000 students nation-wide, including 496 GW students, said Erik Olson, senior editor of “The Best 351 Colleges.”

Although almost 500 random GW students were questioned, some undergraduates and administrators said they did not know about the surveys, and did not see how the relatively small number of students could judge something such as student happiness or political activity for an entire campus.

The magazine U.S. News and World Report, which came out last week with its annual list of the best universities in the country, bases its rankings on a strict formula, which includes percentages for student selectivity, retention rate, alumni giving rate and peer assessment. No student feedback is used in the U.S. News calculations.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who is not in favor of university rankings in general, said he is “very skeptical” about Princeton Review’s methods because it rates subjective aspects of a school.

“We can dispute GW is good (at certain things)…but (Princeton Review) prints every bit of rubbish you dump on the table,” Trachtenberg said.

Princeton Review’s rankings are divided into several categories – academics and admissions data, students, life at school and life after college. Hard data and student surveys are used for academics and admissions, but Princeton Review relies on student surveys for the other categories.

Questions on the student surveys range from campus diversity to how smoothly a university is run to the percentage of classes students attend.

“We know the surveys are accurate because they’re coming right from the students,” Olson said. “This is a qualitative survey and it’s one of the largest of its scope. It’s not unlike what Consumer Reports does. There’s no margin of error.”

Several students said they agreed with the “Great college town” category, noting attractions in Washington as reasons they came to GW.

“We’re in the middle of the capital – there’s Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle and we’re five blocks away from the White House,” sophomore Alicia Shay said.

New York University, Tulane University in New Orleans and Georgetown University received the top three spots for the best college towns.

GW students said they also agreed with the “Dorms like palaces” rank.

“Our dorms are very posh compared to a lot of state universities,” junior Annie Huynh said.

Despite GW’s location in the country’s political hotbed, several students said they did not agree with the review that GW students are some of the most politically active.

“I don’t think we should be so high on the politically active ranking,” junior Anna Beck said. “Politically we seem quieter and more stagnant.”

Last year, GW ranked sixth in “Least happy students,” seventh in “Long lines and red tape,” ninth in “Dorms like palaces,” 14th in “Nobody plays intramural sports,” 16th in “town-gown relations are strained” and 17th in “most politically active students.”

Despite the changes, several students said the red tape is still visible, and GW’s relationship with the community has not improved.

“We should be number one for red tape,” junior Jennifer Kenyan said. “I just had to pay $25 to get a new GWorld card and had to wait 45 minutes just to get a replacement ID.”

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