Gonzaga University and Whitworth College both ranked in the top 10 for their category in the new U.S. News & World Report listings of the nation’s top schools – an annual report that stirs at least as much heartburn as pride in academia.
Public universities in the Inland Northwest all ranked lower in their categories.
The report has been criticized from many quarters as being a superficial or imperfect measure of schools’ quality. It provides bragging rights to the schools that do well – Harvard, Princeton and Yale among national schools – but even the winners sometimes take it with a grain of salt.
Whitworth President Bill Robinson said, in a news release, that “the rankings can never capture the real value of our mission or the great things that our students and faculty accomplish.”
Whitworth and Gonzaga have been highly rated in recent years among master’s level universities in the West. In the newest rankings, Gonzaga is again fourth and Whitworth sixth among 123 schools in that class. Eastern Washington University ranked 55th.
Other regional universities ranked lower on different scales. Among national universities – those with full doctoral programs and often a research emphasis – Washington State University ranked 120th. That’s at the bottom of the first of three tiers of rankings, below the University of Washington in 45th place.
The University of Idaho is ranked in the third tier, which isn’t broken down by number.
The rankings are based on a variety of statistical measures, with the greatest weight given to peer ratings, faculty resources and retention of freshmen. It’s been around since 1983, and some universities – such as Clemson – have made improving in the magazine’s rankings a top priority.
WSU spokesman James Tinney said that some surveys indicate students don’t use such rankings all that much in their decision-making, despite the attention they get. More important for a school like WSU are personal connections, family and friends, and other experiences that the rankings can’t quantify.
“For us, I don’t think it has that much of a recruiting impact one way or another,” he said. “Boiling down a college experience to a chart full of numbers – I don’t know how much you really learn from that.”
Many in higher education have criticized the rankings as a limited measure of a school’s quality, and they decry the influence the rankings have.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year, Ben Gose wrote, “In any discussion of what is wrong with college admissions today, one is bound to hear two culprits – the college rankings by U.S. News & World Report and the SAT.”
The magazine, in its online edition, says it provides the rankings as one way for students to make direct comparisons between institutions, and they are not intended to be the sole measure for university quality.