University ranks 53 in college list

University administrators shrugged off the U.S. News & World Report’s annual college ranking this week, which listed GW as 53rd for the second year in a row, saying the rankings are not indicative of the value or popularity of a GW degree.

GW shares the 53rd spot with the University of Maryland and Ohio State University, but the University fared better when ranked by high school guidance counselors. Holding its position at 34th, GW received a 4.2 out of 5 in the category that asks guidance counselors to rank schools based on which universities offer the best educations to their students. GW shares its position with 10 other schools, including Boston University, Brandeis University and Wake Forest University.

University President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg questioned the magazine’s rankings, saying they have not changed much in more than 20 years.

“Harvard, Yale and Princeton have been ranked 1-2-3 since before I was born,” Trachtenberg said. “The first 50 have pretty much been constant for the last 20 years. At some point, U.S. News & World Report should be embarrassed to publish their magazine because they are publishing the same data [every year].”

Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said that while the University does use the rankings to see where improvements should be made, the report is taken with a grain of salt.

“The U.S. News rankings are taken as one among a number of measures as to how we are doing in improving GW academically and otherwise,” Lehman said in an e-mail. “At the same time, we realize through careful study of the underlying assumptions, etc., that the U.S. News rankings are not totally objective. At least 30 percent of the assessment is subjective and therefore must be understood for what it really is.”

Trachtenberg added that GW’s position in the ranking has not changed much over the past two decades either – GW has not broken the top 50 since 1998, when the University was ranked 46th.

The former University president said GW remains stagnant in the rankings because all universities are improving at nearly the same rate, making a drastic change in the rankings nearly impossible.

“During the last 20 years, we’ve gone as high as 46th and as low as 54th. Statistically, that’s a non-change,” Trachtenberg said. “Tiny little fractions that make up the packed group have no meaningful differentiation.”

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, agreed that the rankings have had a limited impact.

“There has not been recently any evidence of correlation between our rankings and the growing popularity of GW among students applying for admission,” Chernak said in an e-mail. “Applications are up this year and as you know, so too has the size and quality of the freshman class been up as well. Guess #53 is a lucky number!”

While Trachtenberg said there is some merit to the U.S. News rankings, he said a student should not base their college decision on the rank of a school, but rather choose a school that best fits them.

Trachtenberg used the example of the University of Colorado at Boulder. While GW is ranked higher than the University of Colorado, it doesn’t necessarily mean a student should choose GW over it.

“[Colorado is] a beautiful school and the air is fresh and the skiing is great, so if your goal is to have that certain kind of college experience, coming to GW is wrong and going to Colorado is right,” Trachtenberg said. “But if you want an urban experience or if you want the kinds of internships and type of political science and economics and international affairs programs GW has, then GW is right for you.”

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

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