GW’s relatively small endowment factored into how it was ranked on the top-colleges lists released last week, higher education and university rankings experts say.
The University’s endowment, which is smaller per student than most of its peer schools, could hold it back from climbing in the rankings.
Robert Morse, who compiles the annual U.S. News & World Report list, said GW’s two-spot drop to No. 54 stemmed from small changes. The admissions rate, which factors in students’ high school ranking and SAT/ACT scores, saw a slight decrease, he said. The University’s predicted graduation rate was also higher than the actual graduation rate.
Morse said it’s unlikely GW will be ranked similarly to schools like Duke, Emory or Georgetown universities – which GW calls its competitors – unless it builds a $20 billion endowment.
“It would be like a transformational move to go from around 50 to being some of those schools that are in the top 25 or top 10,” Morse said.
GW’s $1.4 billion endowment is dwarfed by schools like No. 16 Vanderbilt University, which has an almost $3.7 billion endowment, and No. 8 Duke University, which boasts a $6 billion endowment.
A small endowment also helped put GW in the bottom 20 on the New York Times’ first ever list of the most economically-diverse colleges.
The Times ranking drew criticism last week for only taking into account 3 percent of all college students in the country. Still, it found GW was less economically diverse than nearly all its peer schools.
Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education who studies college rankings systems, said the Times’ methodology behind the list compared “a lot of competing institutions” with GW.
GW’s $70,000 per student endowment doesn’t stack up to the more than $300,000 that Duke, Vanderbilt and Emory have to spend on each student annually, he said.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s good, but not when you’re competing against schools who have double that,” Kelchen said.
One way for GW to improve its Times rankings would be to reduce its net price for lower- and middle-income students, Kelchen said, though that would be difficult to do without growing the endowment.
Even as the cost of higher education has captured national attention, the Times’ rankings will not have a significant impact on prospective students’ impressions of universities, Kelchen said. Students from lower economic classes, in particular, are less likely to even look at college rankings.
Kelchen said the U.S. News rankings will probably remain the most popular system – even as other well-known organizations make their own lists.
“They’ve been doing it for a long time, and it kind of matches up with what people think for really good colleges,” he said.
Rankings have been a sore spot since U.S. News booted GW of its list in 2012, after the University disclosed that it had inflated admissions data for more than a decade. GW broke into the top 50 on the list of best colleges in 2011, but has fallen every year since.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said rankings are just one way for prospective students to consider which college to attend.
“Our focus will continue to be on achieving academic excellence, providing an outstanding university experience to our students and highlighting the important contributions of our exceptional students, faculty, staff and alumni to our city, nation and world,” she said in a statement.
GW has tied consistently with Tulane University, another one of its 14 peer schools, for the past five years.
Katie Busby, assistant provost for assessment and institutional research for Tulane, said the school’s top administrators discuss the rankings when they are released every year.
“I think any of these are tools that students and their families can use when they’re making the college decision,” Busby said. “I think it’s one of many, and I hope there’s a number of things that students look at when they’re making their college choice.”
This article appeared in the September 15, 2014 issue of the Hatchet.