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ND, SMC excel on ranking lists

Katie Perry | Thursday, August 24, 2006

A flurry of rankings recently announced by top national publications once again placed Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s in the upper echelon of American academia – distinctions still esteemed by leadership from both campuses.

Notre Dame placed No. 20 in the 2007 U.S. News & World Report ranking of national universities – a two-point slip from last year’s placement. In the 2006 list, the University tied Vanderbilt at No. 18.

Associate Vice President for News and Information Don Wycliff said rankings have meaning for their readers. However, he said, “precisely what that meaning is and whether [readers] attach a lot of importance to a two-point difference” is something the publication’s editors should decide.

Regardless, Notre Dame’s position as a top-20 school is “extremely important” to the University, he said.

“Notre Dame obviously values a good ranking,” Wycliff said. “I don’t think we need to apologize for valuing that. We try to put things into perspective and recognize we have certain strengths and certain things that are becoming strengths.”

Princeton University nabbed the top spot and was followed by fellow Ivies Harvard and Yale at second and third. Regional schools Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Michigan ranked No. 70, No. 64 and No. 24, respectively.

Other Catholic colleges included Georgetown University at No. 23 and Boston College at No. 34.

U.S. News & World Report also ranked comprehensive colleges nationwide and placed Saint Mary’s first in the Midwest out of 106 schools. The honor is nothing new, however – the College has led the list 12 of the past 13 years.

Saint Mary’s spokesperson Melanie McDonald said the honor is not something the College specifically strives for in developing programs, but is a “happy consequence” of the school’s educational merit.

“It’s about consistently being excellent in educating women,” she said. “Any time you receive positive recognition for the work you’re doing, you have to smile and say thank you.”

Saint Mary’s all-female make-up is “another thing that puts [the College] at the top,” McDonald said, referring to a July Indiana University study which found women’s colleges are “better served in their educational pursuits than their peers at coeducational institutions.”

In addition to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, the University was also selected by the editors of the 2007 Kaplan/Newsweek “How to Get into College Guide” in its selection of 25 “new Ivies.”

The guide noted the number of alumni and students who cite the University’s “unique Catholic character,” as well as the more than 50 percent of entering freshmen who said Notre Dame was their first choice.

Additionally, the report praised the University’s 95 percent graduation rate – rivaled only by Harvard and Princeton, with equivalent records – and 80 percent of students who participate in community service.

The rankings included universities whose top-rate scholastic programs, in tandem with a “population boom” in the nation’s leading scholars, have spurred a “rise in stature and favor among the nation’s top students, administrators and faculty – edging them to a competitive status rivaling the Ivy League.”

“The reason we have attained the level we have is because of our unique strengths,” Wy-cliff said. “We will continue to build on those unique strengths … [and] maybe someday schools will be named the ‘new Notre Dames.'”

Other “new Ivies” included Boston College, Colgate Univer-sity, New York University, Tufts University and the University of Michigan. A school’s placement on the list relied on admissions statistics and interviews with administrators, students, faculty and alumni.

Other publications had similar opinions of Notre Dame as US News & World Report.

Washington Monthly magazine, an alternative political publication, ranked Notre Dame No.13 among colleges nationwide in its September issue.

Editors said the rankings assessed the “patriotism” of various institutions and explored “what colleges are doing for the country.” The guide targeted Americans concerned about how effectively colleges utilize tax money and how institutions of higher learning prepare students to keep the nation “competitive in a changing world,” the magazine said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology topped the list. The University of California-Berkeley, Penn State University, UCLA and Texas A&M rounded out the top five.

Wycliff said though rankings are useful to the University, “one has to consider what the people who are doing the listing have in mind, what criteria they use and what biases they may bring to the issue.”

“Obviously every [list] serves some purpose to somebody,” he said. “[The biases] can be as benign as the highest priority on academic graduate research, or in the case of the Washington Monthly rankings, how well the institution serves American democracy.”

McDonald said the U.S. News & World Report rankings, among other lists, are sometimes “controversial in terms of value” since there is no definitive way to evaluate schools.

“A lot of students and parents look at rankings and find value in them,” she said. “They use [the lists] as a tool – and to be ranked at the top is an honor.”