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Notre Dame named to Forbes 2012 top college list

Kristen Durbin | Friday, August 17, 2012

Members of the Notre Dame community have long been aware of the University’s continual growth and rise to prominence as a national research university, but now the financial world is taking note as well.

Earlier this month, business magazine Forbes ranked Notre Dame No. 12 on its 2012 list of America’s top colleges and universities. According to Forbes.com, this holistic ranking is based on information gathered from five general categories: postgraduate success, student satisfaction, debt, four-year graduation rate and competitive awards.

Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment Don Bishop said the Forbes ranking methodology uses “reality-based outcomes” to measure the quality of American colleges and universities.

“Forbes is a financial expert, so not surprisingly, they tend to look at outcomes in what your costs were for going to a school, the productivity of that school in graduation and student satisfaction and the actual success – not perception or prestige – five, 10, 20 years out after graduation,” Bishop said. “It is gratifying that Notre Dame rises even higher in that more realistic, outcomes-based approach.”

Bishop said he believes Notre Dame fared well in Forbes’s ranking due to a correspondence between the values outlined in the ranking methodology and those of the University.

“We tend to have the same values that Forbes seems to identify, such as the quality of undergraduate education, student access to faculty and the feeling that students are getting attention and inspiration from that faculty,” Bishop said. “We don’t intend to overuse rankings, but this particular ranking is more thoughtful and robust, and when we discuss where Notre Dame’s strengths lie, a lot of attributes [Forbes] articulates, we articulate.”

Because the list includes both national research universities and liberal arts colleges, Notre Dame ranked eighth among its research university peers and No. 12 overall. This ranking places the University ahead of half the institutions in the Ivy League as well.

“We think that’s a fair assessment,” Bishop said. “This ranking is a very useful tool for Notre Dame because it places us in a more advantaged situation in conversations with students to talk about the benefits of the University. Now you have an external source recognizing that and placing a high value on it, too.”

One of those “Notre Dame benefits” acknowledged by the Forbes ranking is the University’s emphasis on financial support for students and its impact on the pool of students applying to Notre Dame, Bishop said.

“We think financial support is important in lowering debt, and improvements in our financial aid over the last decade have moved Notre Dame up,” he said. “We’re now getting students to enroll that may not have enrolled 10 years ago because of our more supportive financial aid. That’s a strength that’s only going to get stronger.”

The increased financial support for students in recent years has been facilitated by the simultaneous growth of the University’s endowment, which Bishop said now ranks in the top 10 among private universities, compared with its top-15 ranking 15 years ago.

“We’re moving up in the success of the University due to the support provided by alumni and the general public,” Bishop said. “We also just completed a $2 billion alumni donation campaign last year, which was a historic accomplishment.”

The growth of Notre Dame’s endowment has also allowed the University to invest more heavily in its faculty and campus facilities, Bishop said.

“We have one of the top faculty cohorts in the country, and Notre Dame continues to invest in a stronger faculty each year,” he said. “The quality of the faculty and the access students have to that faculty has been a major investment in the last 10 to 15 years that’s only getting stronger each year.”

Bishop said the combination of those three factors – faculty, financial aid and facilities – contribute to both the University’s growing reputation and its commitment to providing students with the best education possible.

“Not only are we very good at raising money, but we’re very good at investing that money and getting a higher return, which means we can provide better facilities, faculty and aid,” Bishop said. “When you have those three things going your way, you’re going to keep making up ground on others as long as you know where you’re headed.”

Although national college rankings like those of Forbes are generally held in esteem by much of the American public, Bishop said the University strives to “be a better Notre Dame” that holds true to its mission, rather than evolving into a “generic” top 10 university.

“Notre Dame has a vision of where it’s headed in terms of mission … It is not driven by outside rankings. It’s driven by the belief that it’s our responsibility to get better every year in many different ways,” he said. “More importantly, we value a sense of obligation and service to others. We’re not here just to be No. 1 for our own benefit, but the more successful we are, the more we can serve others successfully, and people believe that here.”

Despite the high financial costs of attending Notre Dame and Forbes’s focus on the economic value of a college education, Bishop said he believes enrolling in the University proves to be a “good return on a very expensive investment” in the long run.

“Notre Dame has a very strong sense of mission and focus along with expanding resources that make us a better value today than when we charged much less some time ago,” he said. “Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s worth a lot more.”

Overall, Bishop said the Forbes ranking will further the University’s national reputation and attract high-quality applicant pools in the future, but it should not take away from Notre Dame’s unique character.

“[The Forbes ranking] improves the conversation, but it should not dominate the conversation. It still needs to be about the unique benefits of Notre Dame,” Bishop said. “We’re No. 1 at who we are, so we need to get students who care about that.”