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Letter from the President: Those Mysterious College Rankings

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In the search for distinction, many colleges advertise their rankings and ratings to point to their elite status, special attributes, and selectivity. Meredith has certainly done the same as we’re proud of our top rankings by US News & World Report, Forbes.com, College Choice, Princeton Review, and others.

Historically, in fact, Meredith has ranked in the top 10 in several US News & World Report categories, including “best colleges in the Southeast” and “best value.” So imagine our surprise when the new rankings placed us 154th.

The good news is we are ranked #154 because we moved up in categories. Our former category, “Regional Institutions” (the southeastern U.S.) included N.C. colleges such as Catawba, Lees-McRae, Barton, Belmont Abbey, Mars Hill, and Brevard.

Our new category, “National Liberal Arts Institutions,” has two tiers: the top one ranked (that is where we are now) and the second one unranked. Now Meredith is a “top-tier national liberal arts institution” in very good company with Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, Swarthmore, and Davidson, among other excellent institutions known for quality and distinction.

You may be curious about other rankings. College Choice, for instance, includes a review of women’s colleges, ranking Meredith #5 best women’s college (among Wellesley, Smith, Barnard, Bryn Mawr) and #2 for academic excellence (bested only by Wellesley).

Other rankings are not so favorable to us, especially those that have very small responses or unusually unreliable criteria. For instance, PayScale.com purports to measure return-on-investment for undergraduate degrees, weighing the cost of tuition with the average salary of graduates. Fields that pay the highest salaries – engineering, technology, science/math – skew the results against institutions such as Meredith who graduate more teachers, social workers, and public servants – notoriously lower-paid professionals.

Just as misleading is “Rate My Professor,” where an algorithm calculates an institutional score based on anonymous student ratings (and gripes) about individual faculty. Imagine which students are most motivated to respond!

As stand-alone measures, PayScale.com and Rate My Professor are pretty easy to understand; the true problems come when they are embedded into other rankings as a proxy for “value” or “instructional quality.”

While it is tempting to dismiss all rankings, many prospective students and their families use rankings to guide their thinking about a college, even to the point of whether to consider the college at all. Alumnae and friends who understand the ways rankings are calculated and the distorted pictures they often introduce can offer great insights to these families.

Ultimately, rigorous internal assessments of student learning outcomes, the great employers and graduate programs that recruit our students, and alumnae’s lifelong satisfaction with their college experience are our best evidence that Meredith is an institution of distinction … and Going Strong!

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330

allenme@meredith.edu