Saint Mary's returns to top of the charts
by MOLLY McVOY
Saint Mary's College is once again the best Midwest Liberal Arts College, according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings.
In the issue that hits newsstands Monday, Saint Mary's reclaimed its No. 1 position, after falling to No. 2 last year.
"I am very pleased that we are back at the No. 1 position that we deserve," said Marilou Eldred, the College's president.
Before last year's No.2 ranking, the College recorded five years at the No. 1 spot. Saint Mary's has never been out of the top 10 of the rankings since the survey began in 1985.
"I think in our hearts and minds, we knew that we were always No. 1," said Mary Pat Nolan, director of admissions.
The rankings are based on a variety of factors including the school's graduation and retention rates, the student:faculty ratio and the acceptance rate. It is not clear where the College improved this year to regain the top spot.
"Is there some reason we're No.1 this year and not last year? No, its just that we've always been strong," said Mary Lelik, director of institutional research. "It's just a matter of changes in the method of the rankings."
Recently, the rankings have been under fire for their validity and consistency. In The Washington Monthly's September issue of this year, a report was released that questioned the methods of the rankings. The publication released the findings of a 1997 National Opinion Research Center's review of the U.S. News rankings.
The report found that "the principal weakness of the current approach is that the weights used to combine the various measures into an overall rating lack any defensible empirical or theoretical basis."
U.S. News replied by explaining that they implemented many of the recommendations set forth by The National Opinion Research Center.
"There has been a lot of controversy about these rankings and how much value they have," said Melanie Engler, director of public relations for the College. "But, the bottom line is, parents find them useful and students find them useful."
"The rankings seem to serve parents and students well, and U.S. News prints its methodology in the issue for all to see, so people can decide for themselves whether or not to lend credence to the rankings," Eldred said.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding the rankings, reclaiming the No. 1 spot is important to the College, especially for the admissions staff.
"I think that anytime we can say we're No. 1, especially in something as well known as U.S. News, that's something people look at," Nolan said.
Eldred agreed that these rankings may be most important to prospective students and possible donors for the College.
"It helps us mainly in recruiting and fundraising because we have this recognition that we are No. 1," Eldred said.
Although the rankings are often aimed at incoming students, the reputation of No. 1 is something that affects the entire student body.
"The ranking is a prime example of how hard we work here," said Michelle Nagle, student body vice president. "It shows the rest of the world how special we are."
"[Being No. 1] is an important image for the college," Lelik said. "It's an honor to have that first place finish."
Last year's top college, Hillsdale College, fell to No. 4 this year. In turn, Saint Mary's pulled back to No. 1 and St. Norbert College and Taylor University jointly claimed No. 2.
"Being No. 1 is proof that Saint Mary's has earned a national reputation as a leader in education," said Chrissie Renner, student body president.
The top four spots are very close, once again, with only seven percentage points separating No. 1 from No. 4.
"Some very fine institutions are in our category and we're very happy that we're No. 1," Lelik said.
Whether or not the rankings are valid or the methods questionable, the student body is proud of the College's return to the top.
"This ranking is something we achieve as a community," Renner said. "It's a recognition of the excellence of our faculty and the quality of our student body."
All News Stories for Monday, September 4, 2000