A Notch Up in US News, But Does It Mean Much?
October 18, 2001
Thanks largely to its success in student selectivity, student retention, and alumni giving, Davidson cracked the "Top Ten" in this year's rankings of national liberal arts colleges by US News & World Report magazine.
Creeping up one spot from number eleven last year to number ten this year gives the college an impressive "sound bite," but college officials stress that the single step up the stairs is less important than being anywhere near the front of the line. The magazine includes 218 institutions in its list of "national liberal arts colleges," and Davidson is the highest ranking school in the southeastern part of the country.
"The calculations on which the rankings are based are subject to anomalies, such as the fact that the weights assigned to variables change from year to year," explained Linda LeFauve, the college's director of institutional research. "We're therefore most concerned with our membership in a very prestigious group of schools, rather than the number assigned."
While US News & World Report presents its rankings as objective, LeFauve points out that one-quarter of each school's ranking is based on each school's "academic reputation," among presidents, admissions officers, and chief academic officers.
US News used "harder" numbers in the six other factors that determined each school's ranking. Tops for Davidson was its ranking of fifth among peers in graduation and retention rate this year. In fact, only three schools among national liberal arts colleges reported higher graduation rates than Davidson. LeFauve said that is an encouraging reflection of fit between the students we admit and the intellectual and social life of Davidson, the success of our student services, the success of our academic programs, and the general satisfaction of our students.
Likewise, Davidson's ranking of ninth in alumni giving and twelfth in student selectivity indicates success in recruiting students, and their satisfaction with the Davidson experience.
Davidson's lowest rankings came in areas of financial resources, which lag behind peer institutions with much larger endowments. Davidson was twenty-fourth in "faculty resources," and twenty-eighth in "financial resources."
LeFauve concluded, "U.S. News has incorporated methodological changes nearly every year, including rounding of overall scores, changes in weights assigned to variables, changes in factor components, and utilization of different scales. In addition, since the ranking scheme depends not just on what happens at Davidson, but on what happens everywhere else, it is possible to see no change whatsoever in our overall score, and yet radically change position on the list."
A more detailed breakdown of Davidson's US News ranking is available here.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.