MATT EPSTEIN ’19
While the value of the U.S News and World Report college rankings is certainly something to be debated, their effect is without question. Families of prospective students look to a college’s ranking as an indicator of the caliber of the school. Given the choice, who wouldn’t rather attend the top ranked liberal arts college, instead of #50? Donors look to rankings as well. They are more inclined to give money to their alma mater if it appears to be doing well. Fifteen years ago, Trinity was ranked #22 in the nation by U.S News and World Report for liberal arts colleges, firmly entrenched in the countries elite institutions. In 2014, when then President Jimmy Jones left Trinity, the college had fallen to #48, a significant decline.
In the years following the hiring of President Berger-Sweeny, Trinity saw a steady rise in the rankings, ascending ten spots to #38 as of 2016. At #38, Trinity was tied with both Skidmore and Union colleges, a sign that the college was moving in the right direction. A few weeks ago, however, the latest rankings came out, which saw Trinity drop 6 spots down to #44. While any student can attest to the fact that the caliber of a Trinity education hasn’t declined in the last year, a drop in the rankings is still significant, and may be attributed to a number of causes.
Since the 2016 academic year began, Trinity has made national headlines twice, neither of which made the college look good. Last fall, the porch collapse made national news. This past summer, the debacle surrounding Prof. Johnny Williams again put Trinity in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. While the issues surrounding what happened with Prof. Williams are certainly up for debate and interpretation, they didn’t make Trinity look good in any case. One of the main factors in the U.S. News and World Report ranking is a college’s reputation, as perceived by its peer colleges, “allowing presidents, provosts and deans of admissions – to account for intangibles at peer institutions”. Surely, these incidents didn’t improve Trinity’s standing with regard to that metric.
First year retention and graduation rates also have significant weight in a college’s ranking. U.S News and World Report explains it definition of retention: “the higher the proportion of first-year students who return to campus for sophomore year and eventually graduate, the better a school is apt to be at offering the classes and services that students need to succeed.” This is an area where Trinity surely has room for improvement. Trinity’s first year retention rate sits at 90%, while its six-year graduation rate sits at 85%. Some 10% of incoming freshman don’t return for their sophomore year, and 15% of those who enroll at Trinity don’t graduate (at least within 6 years).
When compared to rival NESCAC schools Amherst and Wesleyan, which retain 98% and 94% of their first year students respectively, Trinity lags behind. This could be attributed to a number of causes, some of which might have to do with the diversity (or lack thereof) of Trinity’s student body. Recently, a New York Times article placed Trinity at the top of the list for median family income. Seemingly, this could make Trinity a less than welcoming place for students who don’t come from an economic background as such. Further, Trinity’s student body has, historically, lacked diversity. While not necessarily related, Trinity’s lowest retention rates (according to its fact book, available on Trinity’s website) are among its Hispanic, Black, and Asian/Pacific students. There are surely many factors at play, but it likely comes as no surprise that Trinity’s least represented students are its most likely to leave.
While Trinity fell in the rankings this Fall, its issues are not beyond improvement. After a year of making the news for the wrong reasons, the administration must try to make headlines that make the college look appealing to potential top applicants. Additionally, the college must work to increase retention rates. In many instances, the college has already shown that it is hard at work doing so. While the efficacy of the Bantam Network Program can be debated, it shows an effort by the college to enhance the first year experience, presumably in an attempt to get first years to come back. Further, the class of 2021 is “…the most diverse in Trinity’s history…with a record high” number of students of color, international students, and students from outside New England. Hopefully, this surge in diversity is met with a surge in retention rates. Although Trinity did suffer a substantial fall in the rankings, its problems are fixable, and the college appears to be getting back on track towards ascending in the ranks again.
MATT EPSTEIN ’19