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Saint Mary’s breaks into rankings

Katie Kohler | Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Saint Mary’s recently broke into the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the top 100 liberal arts colleges, securing the 91st spot.

While the College was previously ranked the top liberal arts college in the region, it hadn’t made the national rankings until this year.

The Princeton Review also recognized Saint Mary’s as a “Best Midwestern College for 2008.”

“We’ve long known we can compete on a national level and it is gratifying to see our quality recognized,” College President Carol Ann Mooney said in an Aug. 17 statement. “While many of my peers in higher education would like to see ranking systems change, there is no doubt that students and their parents rely heavily on these rankings when making their decisions about college.”

While Mooney was pleased with breaking into the top 100, she has already set a loftier goal for the College. She hopes Saint Mary’s breaks into the top 50 national liberal arts colleges in the near future.

To do this, Mooney believes the College needs to improve retention and graduation rates. Small class sizes and “talented, accessible faculty” could also boost the College’s ranking, Mooney said.

But the College’s current performance was enough to prompt U.S. News to move it from the regional to the national category, Director of Media Relations Melanie McDonald said.

“We didn’t do anything different. There was no seismic shift … just a reclassification,” she said. “But to enter into the realm of the top third is a big deal for us. It shows that we can play in the big leagues and that we belong.”

While the Princeton Review rankings are not as well known as the U.S. News and World Report rankings, the impact on the College is still significant, College officials said.

“Any time there is academic recognition and student satisfaction, it is a positive thing,” McDonald said.

U.S. News, which relies heavily on evaluations from peer institutions, differs from the Princeton Review, which considers student input.

“It is a nice balance to know that we received kudos from students who lived the education and our academic peers as well,” McDonald said.

The Princeton Review rankings are based on standards for excellence and student opinion data, collected through a survey on its Web site.

The information was compiled in the publication’s “Best Colleges: Region by Region” section of the Web site dedicated to colleges that “stand out as academically excellent institutions of higher learning.”

Administrators and faculty members said they are looking forward to the implications of the recent awards and their potential effect on enrollment.

Dan Meyer, vice president of enrollment management, and Mona Bowe, director of admissions, are “leading the charge” in Mooney’s plan to increase enrollment, McDonald said.

“[The rankings] will no doubt look attractive to prospective students and parents,” McDonald said. “But it is not cause and effect. All the good things we want for the College will not come about right now, but it is a good place to begin.”

Students also said they thought the recognition was important.

“I think these honors will help Saint Mary’s on a national level and attract students from different backgrounds and areas of the country, not just the Midwest,” freshman Megan Miller said.

Saint Mary’s is on its way to the national circuit, which McDonald attributes to strong leadership. Mooney has made aggressive attempts to increase enrollment to 1,700, while making Saint Mary’s a more diverse institution.

“Each year we are getting better because of the support of those in leadership positions,” McDonald said. “Just look at enrollment this year.”

The honors, McDonald said, “just boost the fact that we are already doing important things right. And that is a good flag to fly.”

Mandi Stirone contributed to this report.