BRENDAN W. CLARK ’21
The U.S. News and World Report rankings for 2019 were released on Monday, September 10, placing Trinity at #46, a drop of two from the previous year’s #44. Trinity tied for #46 this year with Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut.
Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney delivered a swift response, via an email to the student body and community, stating that despite a unilateral agreement amongst higher education opposed to the “oversimplification of our diverse institutions to an ordinal ranking,” that we, as a community, “understand the reality” of rankings and their significance to prospective parents and students.
Berger-Sweeney clarified expectations, noting that Trinity’s “highest position was at number 20, back in 1990” and that the institution has not been “in the top 25 since 2006,” rejecting the incorrect notion that Trinity had ever been amongst the top ten in the U.S. News rankings.
Among other schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), Trinity was outranked by Williams College (#1), Hamilton College (#16), Wesleyan University (#18), and Bates College (#22).
Berger-Sweeney also addressed the rankings system, stating that “our slight drop” was the result of “lower retention and graduation rates from students who entered the college in 2011.” Berger-Sweeney called the data from this class “an outlier,” highlighting that the 2015 class had “the lowest six-year graduation rate of any class in the college’s recent history.” Berger-Sweeney added that the “lagging indicators that use averages of four years’ retention and graduation rates” will continue to factor into U.S. News rankings for three additional years.
U.S. News states, on their website, that their methodology evaluates “colleges and universities on 16 measures of academic quality.” U.S. News cites the following factors as consequential in their ultimate issued ranking: “outcomes, social mobility, graduation and retention rates, graduation rate performance, faculty resources, expert opinion, financial resources, student excellence, standardized tests, high school class standing, and alumni giving,” among others.
Berger-Sweeney also addressed rankings in Money Magazine and the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE). Berger-Sweeney stated that, following an inquiry by Trinity, she had learned that the Money “swing was due primarily to a single penalty assigned to us as one of 40 or so schools that reported laying off any employees in the previous year.” With respect to the WSJ/THE ranking, Berger-Sweeney stated that “Trinity’s scores remained fairly consistent,” excluding a drop in one category: “engagement.” This drop, Berger-Sweeney indicated, was due to a “12-question student survey, whose respondents were recruited through social media.” Berger-Sweeney added that the survey required “just 50 student responses.”
U.S. News states that their rankings “allow you to compare at a glance the relative quality of U.S. institutions based on such widely accepted indicators of excellence as first-year student retention, graduation rates and the strength of the faculty.” Berger-Sweeney encouraged students to look to other actions here on campus to better attain a “full reflection of how the college is doing.” These included the admission of stronger academic classes, better outcomes for student’s post-graduation, the recruitment of excellent faculty, facility improvement, and financial stability.
Berger-Sweeney also referenced the Summit strategic plan, adding that “our success” will ultimately be governed by the “goals articulated in Summit” and those indicators that Trinity sets for itself. Berger-Sweeney concluded her message to the community, adding that despite the drop, “as members of the Trinity College community, you have much to be proud of” and that her administration strives “every day to make that [Trinity] education the very best it can be and demonstrate its value to the world.”
This article originally appeared in the September 11, 2018 print edition of the Tripod with the erroneous headline “President Cites Lay-offs as Reason for Drop to #46.” The headline was corrected online to reflect that lay-offs were not cited by the President as impacting the U.S. News and World Report ranking, but instead the ranking in Money Magazine. This correction will appear in the September 18th print edition.