Amherst ties College in U.S. News rankings

Snide remarks written on the back of Homecoming t-shirts like “What do Amherst and sh** have in common?” are no longer accurate after the latest U.S. News and World Report college and university rankings were released in late August. They placed Williams and Amherst in a tie for first place, with Amherst atop the list because of alphabetical ordering.

“I don’t like the fact that Amherst begins with an A,” Dean Merill said. “But I think College morale is fine with tying. I’d hate to think that we’re that bound to the rankings.”

The College has been at the top of the U.S. News rankings for the past five years, since replacing former first-place holder Amherst in 2003. However, the change in rankings was not necessarily surprising to the administration. When asked in September 2006 if he believed the College would stay atop the rankings indefinitely, President Schapiro said,

“People buy the magazine to see changes in rankings, not the same school on top year after year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they move things around one of these days.”

A year ago, the presidents of 19 highly-ranked colleges and universities, Schapiro included, signed a statement concerning the ranking of colleges. Per the statement, signatory institutions agreed to place the statistical data used to calculate the rankings on their web sites. The statement also committed the colleges to keeping rankings out of admissions publications.

Also recently released were the Forbes Magazine rankings, which rate all institutions against each other, as opposed to U.S. News which separates colleges and universities. On this list Williams was in fifth place behind Princeton University, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard and Swarthmore. In the Forbes rankings, Amherst places seventh.

The difference in ranking placements comes as a result of the different methods and criteria each organization uses to rank institutions. U.S. News uses data question surveys developed by higher education experts, pairing the results with information from presidents’ and deans’ surveys. Thus, the rankings tend to focus on academic reputation.

Recently, data has shifted toward a school’s success in graduating students, rather than the amount and type of students it attracts.

In contrast, Forbes claims to offer an alternative ranking system that puts itself in the shoes of a student. The methodology behind the Forbes ranking system focuses on quality of education and student achievement by evaluating professors and the career success, debt and recognition of its students. Forbes uses tools such as RateMyProfessors.com,
Who’s Who in America and student debt information.

President Schapiro has often been critical of the rankings. “To reduce colleges and universities to a single number creates more confusion than insight,” he said.

According to Dick Nesbitt, director of admission, no changes are expected due to the tie with Amherst, especially with the agreement in place not to include rankings on admissions publications. Nesbitt mentioned, however, that the group that most often references the rankings is the international students. When students are unable to visit colleges, they tend to rely more heavily on ranking system, he said.

Regardless of their relevance or accuracy, rankings remain a source of pride and interest for students, faculty, staff and alumni alike. “While I think that any attempt to individually rank colleges is inherently flawed, I’m thrilled that we are considered among the top colleges and universities in the country,” Nesbitt said.