Officials downplay rankings slip

While GW dropped to No. 53 in U.S. News and World Report’s annual national universities rankings this year, University officials downplayed the significance of the slip.

After tying Pepperdine and Syracuse universities in the 52nd spot last year, GW dropped in the magazine’s 2006 rankings, missing the top 50 for the seventh consecutive year. GW shares No. 53 with Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he does not pay much attention to the national rankings and instead focuses on how to improve GW based on its immediate competition.

“It is an issue of such irrelevance that it’s hard to have any reaction,” he said. “We compete with Boston University, Syracuse University, Tulane University, New York University, Emory University, and these are the places I keep my eye on,” he said, mentioning schools that, with the exception of BU, are ranked higher than GW.

The magazine uses a few indicators to rank universities, including a school’s peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

GW Director of Undergraduate Admissions Kathryn Napper said she thinks the magazine inaccurately ranks universities. GW’s marks in certain areas, including admissions criteria, surpassed those of some universities that were ranked in the overall top 50.

“As always, I think we need to take the U.S. News rankings with a grain of salt,” Napper wrote in an e-mail Monday. “All one has to do is look at the admissions criteria for a number of the schools in the top 50 versus GW to see the irrelevance of the rankings.”

The rankings show that GW accepted 38 percent of its applicants last year, making the University more selective in admissions than most of the schools with rankings in the top 40s. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which tied GW, accepted 75 percent of its applicants last year.

While GW’s statistics were strong in areas such as freshman retention rate, class sizes and graduation rate, the University received comparatively lower percentages in the areas that measured full-time faculty and alumni giving.

Though Trachtenberg said coming in 53rd is “not an issue for embarrassment,” he added that GW cannot be compared to a university such as Harvard, which has an endowment of more than $19 billion.

“We are always looking to improve everything,” he said. “But it all comes back to money.”

Trachtenberg, who has said he thinks GW is growing into “an academic force to be reckoned with,” spent the past few years emphasizing the University’s academic and quality-of-life needs.

While implementing changes such as fixed tuition for incoming students and devoting more than $100 million to financial aid, as well as constructing two new residence halls and business school and international affairs school buildings, GW has continued to slip in the annual rankings.

U.S. News and World Report Data Research Director Bob Morse pointed out that the indicators used in the survey are only things that the magazine can measure statistically, and the rankings do not take into account subjective criteria. The rankings were released to the press Aug. 19 and hit newsstands Aug. 22.

Morse added that by being ranked 53rd out of 248 universities, GW is still in the 21st percentile.

“That puts you in some decent company,” Morse said. “You may not be at the top, but there are a lot more schools that are below you.”

Napper said she does not think that a drop in the rankings will influence admissions.

“Since we continue to increase our application numbers, as well as selectivity, there is no reason to believe that the rankings will affect admissions numbers,” she said. “Students are looking for the right fit for college as opposed to a ranking.”

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