September 20, 2017
Dartmouth has once again been ranked as the 11th best national university in the U.S. News and World Report 2018 college rankings, released last Tuesday. The College was also ranked the second best college for undergraduate teaching, an improvement from last year’s seventh place.
Last year, the College ranked 11th, a slight jump from 12th in 2016. The College shared its 11th place ranking with John Hopkins University and Northwestern University. In U.S. News’ list of institutions with the best undergraduate teaching, this year the College regained its second place ranking from 2016, up from seventh last year.
U.S. News calculates a college’s ranking using a set of indicators that it claims assess academic quality. Graduation and retention rates, undergraduate academic reputation, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rates all factor into a college’s ranking. The indicators are weighted at U.S. News’s discretion, with graduation, retention rates and undergraduate reputation each weighing 22.5 percent while other factors, such as alumni giving, weigh as little as 5 percent.
“I think the rankings are useful in a broadly defined way, but I don’t think the rankings themselves are as precise as people sometimes hope they are,” he said.
Founder of admissions consulting firm Ivy Coach Bev Taylor said that she believes the methodology used by U.S. News is flawed and that its rankings are susceptible to manipulation by colleges. She added that she encourages her clients to visit colleges rather than focus on rankings, but explained that for international students, U.S. News rankings are one of the few accessible sources of information comparing colleges and are consequently a popular resource.
“No matter what we say to students, mostly international students, they just consider U.S. News rankings their Bible,” Taylor said.
Coffin agreed with this observation and said that international students are more reliant on rankings because they are less familiar with the details of the colleges.
“On the admissions side, when we talk about holistic admissions practices, that’s a very foreign concept to many students from outside the U.S.,” Coffin said. “So, the rankings for them are a way of understanding the American system and perceptions of quality.”
Evan Kelmar ’20, who is not an international student, said that he didn’t choose Dartmouth based off of its ranking and instead focused on its reputation.
“I chose it based on the impression I got on the tours and [from] the people here,” Kelmar said. “I believe Dartmouth is ranked highly because it is a good school, not a good school because it is ranked highly.”
On its website, U.S. News claims that the Best Undergraduate Teaching list highlights schools that emphasize providing a high-quality education for undergraduates. It attempts to measure the quality of a college’s undergraduate teaching by reviewing the responses of college presidents, provosts and admissions deans to its 2017 peer assessment survey.
Coffin identified Dartmouth’s performance in this category as an institutional strength.
“The recognition of our excellence in teaching, I think is true, we are fantastic in that regard,” Coffin said. “Having the rankings highlight that is valuable.”
Kelmar said that as a student, he values excellent undergraduate teaching above other indicators, and added that he believes the strong relationships between students and professors at Dartmouth contribute to its high ranking.
Dartmouth also ranks second on U.S. News’s Best Colleges for Veterans list for 2018, an increase from 2017 when the College ranked fifth. U.S. News ranks colleges in this category based on their certification for the G.I. bill, participation in the Yellow Ribbon program and numbers of enrolled veterans.
Taylor said that her college consulting practice often recommends Dartmouth as a favorable institution to veterans.
Coffin said that Dartmouth is a member of the Posse Foundation’s Veterans program and has a strong contingent of veterans coming into the College. As of November 2016, 10 veterans are admitted each year through the College’s partnership with the Posse Foundation, but this total does not include veteran candidates who are admitted independently of the Posse Foundation.
The College ranked fifth in the High School Guidance Counselor rankings, representing no change from the 2017 rankings. According to U.S. News’s website, rankings in this category are based on responses from 1,100 high school guidance counselors from private independent schools or high schools that received gold, silver and bronze medals in the magazine’s high school rankings. These counselors were asked to rate the quality of a school’s undergraduate academic programs on a scale from one to five.
“For students and parents using rankings as a way of learning about institutions, these rankings can point to a college’s long-standing years of excellence,” Coffin said.