Which colleges have seen their rankings improve the most over the last two orthree years?
The rankings are more stable than people think. Typically over a two- or three-year period, the rankings don’t move that much, but I think two schools … Universtiyof Southern California and Washington University in St. Louis … have over thelast decade or so made a strategic – they have a strategy to improve themselves,and their strategy is across-the-board improvement, step-by-step. They take smallsteps each year institution-wide, and that’s the formula to improve in the rankings.
What kind of “small steps” are colleges taking to improve their rankings?
They’re not small in the sense that they’re little things. They just do them a little bit each year. For example, [a college] would raise the SAT average, so maybe oneyear it was 1200, the next year it was 1225, the next year it was 1250 … but theywouldn’t go from 1100 to 1300 in one year; they would do it over a ten-year period. Or they would increase the freshman retention rate. They’d put money intoincreasing freshman retention. The graduation rate would be another one, or faculty salaries. They might put more emphasis on small classes and reduce thenumber of large classes. They’ll do this a little bit each year, focusing on manyfactors of the academic environment.
Have you seen any questionable practices put in place just so a college canincrease its ranking?
There was an event in the summer that came to light, even though I think it wasdebunked: that the president of Clemson … they were not voting honestly on the peer assessment survey … but we have safeguards to prevent strategic voting.Some schools have put in ways to boost their application count. They may have aone or two or three part application, and reject a student on the second part. Theymay not have had any intent to seriously consider the student.When they report their data, some schools leave out minorities or certain types of students … they’ll have left out special cases who are beneath their SAT or ACT profile, so they may look like their scores are higher than they are. It’s unclear whythey actually do that, because they may be inhibiting people from applying. Ihaven’t seen any specific names.
How does a college break into the top rankings?
It’s very difficult. It’s relatively easy, if you’re right beneath the top half, to break into the top half, or to move up somewhat if you’re in the middle of the pack. If you’re in the middle of the pack, it’s easy to move up somewhat, and college presidents have a reputation doing that, like Clemson or Northeastern. There aremany schools – Arizona State, University of Arkansas, to name some – whohaven’t been that highly ranked, but because their profile isn’t that high, they’vemoved up into the bottom of the top half.