U.S. News & World Report ranked GW 54th in its annual listing of the nation’s top 100 undergraduate programs, a rank on par with the University’s decade-long, near-50 showing on the list.
The University fell from its previous rank of number 52 and shares this year’s spot with Pepperdine University and University of Maryland. GW was last listed in the top 50 when it garnered the 46th position in the 1998 U.S. News rankings.
“Compared to last year, this isn’t a significant difference,” said Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations for GW. “GW still had an impressive showing.”
Schario said that there are more than 4,000 universities that did not receive a ranking and that GW’s current placement should not be seen in a bad light.
“There is a dazzle of being in the top 50, but it is still very respectable to be in (our position),” Schario said. “No one expected a dramatic jump one way or another.”
University officials, including former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, have traditionally downplayed the U.S. News rankings. Some of these individuals argued that the rankings do not reflect many of GW’s unique features, including GW’s central location in the nation’s capital and its diverse array of majors.
Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News & World Report, defended the magazine’s ranking system.
“We are very transparent about where our rankings are coming from,” Kelly said. “It is hard, accurate data. We have a formula.”
The U.S. News rankings are devised by calculating graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, graduation rate performance and peer assessments, which are surveys sent to top university academics.
Kelly said the magazine does look into many of the intangible characteristics of universities when it comes out with its rankings.
“(The peer assessment) is an attempt to do that,” Kelly said. “We use this as a way to get intangible data in there.”
There are bright spots for GW in the U.S. News report, despite not improving in the national university rankings.
GW moved up one place to the 41st position in the best undergraduate business school program category making this the eighth consecutive year that GW has been ranked among the top 50 business programs.
The University also dropped from the list of 15 schools with the highest amount of debt for graduates. Last year, U.S. News reported that GW students graduated with an average debt of $27,041 in 2005, which was the eighth highest debt of universities surveyed.
GW increased its total financial aid allotment by 4.7 percent this year with GW students receiving an average of $20,000 assistance, Schario said.
Schario said these various rankings will help University President Steven Knapp look forward, but stressed dramatic changes in some of the categories do not happen immediately. Rankings should not be the sole criterion in judging GW, she said.
“I think rankings are just one of the many factors that parents and students should consider,” Schario said. “I don’t think rankings will ever be able to account for everything.”
Despite GW’s above-50 ranking by U.S. News, Kaplan announced this week that GW was among the top “schools on the cutting edge with an eye toward the future” in its “You are Here” guide to college.
Brandon Jones, a contributing editor to “You are Here,” said Kaplan’s guide is a “new take on a traditional college guide” and lists universities in many non-traditional categories.
GW was listed in the “cutting edge” category because of the University’s location, strong academics and its graduates’ abilities to enter popular careers in politics, law and medicine, Jones said.
“I am not surprised it has made it on another list of elite schools,” Jones said. “Students on campus shouldn’t be surprised by this.”
Kaplan used data from surveys and statistics to come up with its list of 25 “cutting edge” schools, which includes colleges and universities such as Harvey Mudd College, University of Michigan and Northeastern University.
“Being special doesn’t get you on the list,” Jones said. “But if you are on the list, you are special.”