Four area colleges and universities were among the best in the nation in the annual rankings by U.S. News & World Report released on Friday, but the report is becoming increasingly controversial.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was ranked 41st of 130 national universities, while Union College placed 42nd, Skidmore College 47th and Siena College 118th among 124 liberal arts colleges. The University at Albany, Russell Sage College and Albany College of Pharmacy were listed as unranked.
Some of the methodology for the rankings is challenged by officials, and some colleges choose not to participate in the survey. One concern is that college presidents rate similar institutions and that accounts for 25 percent — the largest factor — of the ranking formula. It holds more weight than academics and graduation rates, according to the Web site InsideHigherEd.com.
Skidmore College officials, for a second year, boycotted the rankings.
Skidmore President Philp A. Glotzbach said last year that there is too much randomness in the results of the survey for it to have validity. “While we have a sense of other colleges and universities based on our experience in higher education, those impressions may or may not reflect any given institution’s current strengths or weaknesses.”
The part in question is the “reputational” survey, in which college presidents, chief academic officers and admissions directors are asked to rank peer institutions.
“We don’t react to the U.S. News and World Report ranking. We don’t participate in the reputational survey. We have signed a letter, with 100 other colleges, in which we pledge not to participate in the reputational survey and not to use it in any promotion. We don’t think it has a good methodology,” Dan Forbush, executive director of communications at Skidmore College, said on Friday.
Skidmore is ranked 47th, the same as last year.
“We come out pretty well,” said Forbush. “We have a ranking a lot of other colleges would love to have. We just don’t feel it’s a fruitful exercise by U.S. News & World Report.”
The percentage of colleges participating in the reputational survey is steadily dropping, according to Higher Ed. An estimated 46 percent of colleges returned the survey this year, down from 51 percent last year, and 58 percent in 2006.
Skidmore has joined others in the “University & College Accountability Network,” which was created to provide students and parents comparative information on colleges and universities.
U-CAN now has 700 institutions.
U-CAN was started by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in response to a request by the Department of Education and Congress to provide the public more comparative information.
The Education Conservancy, an anti-rankings group, continues to encourage college presidents to sign a letter pledging not to fill out the reputational survey and not to use rankings in promotional materials. Skidmore is the only local college or university to have signed the pledge.
Many colleges are proud of their ranking and publicize it.
In a statement Friday, RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson said, “We are proud that Rensselaer is once again ranked among the leading 50 universities in the nation. We are educating the next generation of leaders: researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, executives, and thought leaders, who will frame the important questions, who will meet and resolve the challenges of the 21st century, who will change the world.”
It marks the ninth year in a row Rensselaer has been counted among the top 50 universities in the nation. Rensselaer also rose in its ranking — coming in at 41st, up from 44th last year.
Rensselaer’s undergraduate engineering program continues to be rated among the top 25 in the country. Three of the school’s engineering specialty programs — biomedical, electrical and mechanical — were also ranked in the top 25 by U.S. News & World Report.
In this year’s listing, Rensselaer’s faculty resource rank reached an all-time high, up 13 points from last year. It gauges a school’s commitment to instruction by analyzing factors such as class size, student-faculty ratio, and faculty salaries and benefits.
Siena College’s president, the Rev. Kevin Mullen, said: “This is a continued indication of Siena’s strong academic reputation and distinctive mission and shows positive progress toward attainment of goals set forth in our strategic plan.”
Officials at Union College in Schenectady could not be reached to comment.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Harvard University was ranked as the top national university, while Amherst College was named the top liberal arts college.
Upstate New York’s top university was Cornell University in Ithaca, ranked 14th, while its highest ranking liberal arts college was Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, ranked 11th.