Since 1983, U.S. News & World Report has annually released its highly-anticipated list of college rankings. For better or for worse, these rankings – which include categories such as national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities, and regional colleges among others – often play an important role in determining where high school seniors decide to submit their admission deposits.
In the 2016 U.S. News edition of national universities, released Sept. 9, Lehigh was ranked No. 47 — dropping seven places from the 2015 ranking at No. 40.
For its national universities list – including Lehigh – U.S. News takes into consideration undergraduate academic reputation for 22.5 percent of its weighting, graduation and retention rates for 22.5 percent, faculty resources for the previous academic year for 20 percent, student selectivity for the previous entering class for 12.5 percent, financial resources for 10 percent, graduation rate performance for 7.5 percent and alumni giving for 5 percent.
Universities across the country send their statistics to the Common Data Set, a detailed report covering university-wide information, in order to provide precise, timely and transparent data to students and families. The data is then compiled and used by a variety of publications and institutions, including U.S. News, for an assortment of reasons.
However, there is much more to schools than can be quantified and compiled into a list.
“We see rankings, such as those by U.S. News and World Report, to be one of several tools available for students who are evaluating a variety of colleges,” said Lori Friedman, the interim director of media relations in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs. “We ask that prospective students and their families seek the right college for their personal goals and needs with a more comprehensive approach — making a personal visit to campus, talking to students and faculty and learning about our departments and programs and facilities in person or online.”
Lehigh is packed tightly with its peer institutions in these rankings, meaning that even the slightest changes in one of U.S. News’ criteria can lead to drastic swings in the rankings. While this ultra-competitive landscape can lead to the positive strives for improvement, it often paints a misleading picture of an institution’s academic worth.
Chad Davis, who has served as senior director of the Lehigh Fund for the past three years, said that Lehigh will not compromise what it feels is best for the overall student body just to improve itself in the eyes of a publication. This includes the notion of diverting more resources into a given ranking criteria in hopes of obtaining a higher position on the list.
There are several other metrics that are used to judge Lehigh’s continued success such as alumni participation, which can be used to determine alumni satisfaction with their time at Lehigh. Also playing a part is a measure of return on investment, which essentially quantifies how financially valuable a degree is. Last year’s graduating class saw 97 percent of its students either employed, pursuing further education or serving in the Armed Forces.
One of the more distinct measures used by U.S. News is alumni giving, the average percentage of alumni who donated back to their alma maters.
According to Davis, this is a category in which Lehigh performs strongly and serves as a clear indicator of how satisfied former students are with their education.
“It demonstrates a passion for your school,” Davis said. “After a slowdown in alumni participation due to the economic recession, in which Lehigh’s giving rate fell to 21 percent, it has picked up to its current 24 percent level.”
In addition, the Lehigh Fund is witnessing an increasing trend in current students’ contributions to the university.
Stacey Park, ’16, said that rankings should not be taken as the principal determining factor of a degree’s merit.
“While these rankings can certainly help prospective students in narrowing down their selection,” Park said, “I don’t feel they can accurately capture all that goes on in any given campus.”
One year from now U.S. News will release their 2017 rankings of universities and fanfare will again occur as schools jockey for positions on the list.