University reduces class capacities

Correction appended

A top University official said last week that GW is reducing class sizes to improve its ranking in US News & World Report’s annual list of the nation’s best universities.

Class size is one of the elements used by US News to grade universities. In order to improve GW’s score for class size, classes that previously had a 50-student capacity are being knocked down to a 49-student limit, and classes with a 20-student capacity will have a 19-student limit. The change has only affected several departments, but will have a greater impact in spring 2009, University officials said.

“We didn’t (lower class sizes) before because we didn’t realize how strict they were being on it,” said Donald Lehman, executive vice president of academic affairs. He said the University was being penalized for having 50 students or more in some classes and 20 students in others.

Robert Morse, the director of data research for US News, said a university with a greater percentage of courses with less than 20 students and a lower percentage of courses with more than 50 students would receive a high ranking in the class size category.

There are several other factors, however, that affect the rankings, and class size only accounts for a very small portion, US News officials said. Doree Damoulakis, an account executive at a public relations agency representing US News, said that while class size is important, other characteristics of the university count more.

“Our methodology (for ranking) is unique and complicated,” Damoulakis said “We don’t rank just on class size.”

The process for ranking occurs in three parts, according to the US News Web site.

First, colleges are placed in categories based on mission and location. Then the publication takes data from each university based on 15 different academic categories including class size, admissions selectivity and graduation rates. Finally, a composite score is totaled from all information and the schools are ranked accordingly.

Lehman said University President Steven Knapp hopes to improve upon all factors that could raise the University’s ranking, including lowering class sizes.

Despite changes in class sizes, Morse and Lehman said they are unsure if it will be enough for GW to make the top 50 in next year’s rankings.

The University is currently ranked 53rd, sharing the spot with Syracuse University and Maryland. In years past, GW’s ranking has consistently been outside of the top 50, with the exception of 1998 when the University was ranked 46th.

“It depends to what degree the magnitude of difference will be in the statistics that the University is reporting,” Morse said.

Lehman acknowledged that administration would have to change several things – not just class size – to have a major impact on improving in the rankings.

“No one thing is going to have a major impact,” Lehman said. “It takes a lot to make a big difference in the overall score.”

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: (October 21, 2008)

This article misspelled the name of Doree Damoulakis as Dor Damoulakis. The article also stated that Damoulakis is a media representative for US News. Damoulakis is a senior account executive at Kwittken & Co., a public relations agency representing US News.

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