U.S. News and World Report published its annual “National Liberal Arts College Rankings” last month. Smith College rose significantly in this nation-wide ranking, moving from 18th to 14th in the country. Of the 174 liberal arts colleges ranked in the U.S. News and World Report, Smith has ranked in the higher end of the Top 20 in the past few years.
In the 2016 Ranking of Best Liberal Arts Colleges, Smith tied for 14th place alongside Hamilton College, Harvey Mudd College, Wesleyan University and Washington and Lee University; the colleges ranked just behind Smith sat at 19th place, raising the question that perhaps Smith didn’t improve much at all. However, Smith made some quantifiable improvements from last year.
The three main categories in which Smith made significant strides from last year were faculty resources, selectivity and reputation.
When rankings are determined, two of the most important deciding factors are reputation and resources, and Smith improved significantly in both these areas since the previous ranking.
Vice President of Enrollment Audrey Smith praised President Kathleen McCartney, and said, “Under President McCartney’s leadership, great things are happening on campus. Add to that our long-standing strengths, starting with our terrific faculty and student body plus the new investments in program and facilities. This, in my view, will have a more positive effect on admission than any ranking.”
Smith’s jump has made students wonder where their school’s ranking will be in the coming years.
“I’m only a sophomore,” said Latifa Al-Mohdar ’18, “and I’d like our ranking to jump even closer to number one as I progress through the next three years. Not because of rankings’ glitter, but because of the significance of the rankings.”
Two of the most important factors in determining an institution’s ranking are graduation and retention rates. At the moment, Smith has a 94 percent freshman retention rate and an 87 percent six-year graduation rate. Comparitively, Williams College, consistently the highest-ranked liberal arts college in the country, has an average freshman retention rate of 97 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 95 percent.
Smith’s increase in retention and graduation rates can be attributed to the work of former Dean of the College, Maureen Mahoney, current dean Donna Lisker and Vice President of Enrolment Smith. “[This work] includes efforts toward cultivating student community, enhancing student support services and resourcing financial aid that makes it possible for many students to afford full-time study,” said Executive Director of the Office of Institutional Research Cate Rowen.
Since retention and graduation rates are weighed so heavily in the ranking, this focus on keeping students at Smith and providing them with the resources to graduate in six years will undoubtedly yield positive results for the Smith community at large, whether from boosting Smith’s ranking, trying to increase the size and quality of the applicant pool or striving to learn in the most inclusive and supportive environment they can find.
U.S. News’s rankings are an important source of information on colleges for current and prospective students and their families, alumni and faculty alike. Not only do the rankings provide insight into which schools are considered the most prestigious, but they also include general information on each school, such as their student to faculty ratio, number of organizations, residential life and so on. However, rankings do not function to advise prospective students on which college is best for them.
“What matters is whether a campus is a good fit for a given student, and no one should choose a college based on ranking if they aren’t excited about they experience they expect to have there,” Rowen wrote. Rankings are based solely on quantifiable factors, but whether a school is right for any given individual or whether students are happy at school are not so easily quantified.