In an academic society hyper-obsessed with rankings, statistics, and numbers, what impact does a significant drop in rank have on an institution? The Boston College community is grappling with this question after the recent release of the 2019 U.S. News and World Report.
BC placed 32nd among national universities in 2018. However, the 2019 “Best Colleges” rankings dropped BC six places into 38th place. Boasting a freshman class that is the most competitive one yet, the drop in rank comes as a surprise to the community. The report is challenging the student body to examine what the term “best” means to the college ranking community versus what it truly means to them.
According to U.S. News, the “Best Colleges” are decided by 16 measures of academic quality that are grouped into the following categories: outcomes, faculty resources, expert opinion financial resources, student excellence, and alumni giving. The 2019 report differs from the 2018 report in the weight of each academic quality indicator. This is the breakdown and weights of those indicators:
Outcomes (2018: 30%, 2019: 35%): the school’s ability to retain and graduate all students within six years
Faculty resources (remained at 20%): class size and faculty salary
Expert opinion (2018: 22.25%, 2019: 20%): survey of and ratings from top academics, presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions, regarding the academic quality of familiar institutions
Financial resources (remained at 10%): per-student spending
Student excellence (2018: 12.5%, 2019: 10%): standardized test scores, high school ranking
Alumni giving (remained at 5%): alumni donations
Additionally, the 2019 report added the new indicator of “social mobility”—the number of students that receive federal Pell Grants and their graduation rates. The report also removed university acceptance rate from consideration; this accounted for 1.25% of the rankings in 2018.
The changes to the methodology of rankings seem to be a positive. U.S. News is decreasing the weight of factors that indicate privilege, such as test scores and school rankings. Instead, they are including other important factors, such as the school’s ability to cater to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. In doing so, they are beginning to redefine their definition of what makes the “best college.”
Giving consideration to these changes, BC’s drop in rankings appears to highlight the university’s well-known flaw of accepting a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class student body. BC recently reported that only 31% of the student body identifies as AHANA. Moreover, only 40% of the student population receives need-based financial aid, confirming that the majority of the population is in the middle to upper class range.
A possible outcome of the shake-up in rankings could be the university re-examining their admission process. Many universities are eliminating standardized testing from their college admissions process with the hope of mitigating the influence of socioeconomic status on the likelihood of acceptance. Boston College has yet to make this change in their admissions process. This change may be one of the necessary steps toward reflecting the contemporary definition of “best college.”
However, it is important to draw attention to the fact that the U.S. News report uses “hard objective data alone” in deciding ranks. In other words, the report eliminates the academic quality indicator that is arguably the most important: student voices.
With talk fluttering around campus about the implications of this report, many freshmen were eager to share their thoughts on what made BC a “best college.”
Diana Bunge, MCAS '22, shared that she chose Boston College because “I knew it would prepare me for my future. But even more importantly, it would give me the tools I needed to become my best self in an environment of acceptance.”
Bella Martino, MCAS '22, added, “A lot of colleges have great academics; BC is no different. However, the deciding factor for me was the strong sense of community I felt the second I stepped onto campus. The students were driven to achieve their personal definitions of success, as well as help their classmates reach theirs.”
Some students, however, have very different reasons for choosing BC. Will Padden, CSOM '22, remarked that he “chose Boston College because I grew up in a nearby town which meant I didn’t have to travel far to go home or see my family. My grandfather is also a graduate of Boston College, so I think it’s cool to continue a legacy.”
Although the U.S. News report forces the Boston College community to consider the institution’s shortcomings, the article has not caused community pride to waiver. Each student has his or her individual reason for choosing to attend Boston College, as well as unique reasons for why they continue to study here. Connecting with the community sheds light on the limitations of quantitative research and the positives of emphasizing experience. For many students, "Best College" rankings become irrelevant when a school is best for them.