WC Climbs Higher in Ranks

By Maegan Clearwood
News Editor

Washington College is one of many private liberal arts colleges that high school counselors recommend to graduating seniors. Standing out among all this competition may seem like a challenge, but WC has proven its status as a reputable college by rising 19 spots in the annual “U.S. News & World Report” best college rankings list. It is also one of the magazine’s top 10 up-and-coming national liberal arts colleges.

According to Chief of Staff Joe Holt, this is “a pretty substantial climb, probably one of the largest climbs in this year’s rankings,” which is impressive considering what a major resource the list is among potential students.

“‘U.S. News’ is like a consumer report for a family,” Holt said. “This is a school that on this broad range of indicators, when we compare them side by side, lands in the top 100. It’s a shortcut for a lot of families to filter out what they should and shouldn’t look at. It should help us in the upcoming admissions cycle.”

The “U.S. News & World Report” ranks colleges based on a number of factors and surveys.
“Colleges are invited to submit …and the magazine develops a ranking scheme, analyzes the data, and determines the rankings,” said Assistant Provost for Institutional Research and Assessment Dale Trusheim. “‘U.S. News’ asks colleges to complete three surveys: one with basic institutional information on admissions, students, faculty, class sizes, etc. The second survey contains questions about financial aid, and the third one asks for selected financial data. The basic institutional information questionnaire has over 600 questions, although only 16 variables are used in the ranking formula.”

According to the “U.S. News & World Report” website, the factors considered include “assessment by administrators at peer institutions, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, and…high school counselor ratings of colleges and ‘graduation rate performance.’ The indicators include input measures that reflect a school’s student body, its faculty, and its financial resources, along with outcome measures that signal how well the institution does its job of educating students.”

WC has been rising on the list in recent years. This year’s rating is especially impressive, but because so many factors are taken into consideration, it is difficult to determine exactly what sparked such a jump.

“For the first time this year, high school guidance counselors’ opinions were factored into the ranking formula,” said Trusheim. “I would argue that our improvement on the peer assessment survey was most responsible for our increased ranking.”

Regardless of what specific factors contributed to WC’s rise, it reflects the school’s improvements and reputation.

“I think one achievement is that the faculty and staff at the college work very hard to provide students with excellent academic, social, athletic, and extracurricular experiences,” said Trusheim. “This is an important and critical effort in and of itself, regardless of whether we are being compared to other colleges. However, having that quality of work recognized by an independent source is an achievement because we are being measured against other schools who are trying to accomplish similar goals.”

With a ranking of 93, WC is one of the top 100 liberal arts colleges, making it a tier one school.
“When you rank in the top 100, it cuts through the clutter,” said Holt. “It should help us in the upcoming admissions cycle.”

Another achievement that will improve admissions is WC’s placement on the National Science Foundation’s list of “Top 50 Schools that Produce Engineering and Science PhDs.” This rating reflects how WC prepares students for life after college and how they improve over four years of schooling.

“It speaks to outputs,” Holt said. “How far does the school take the students and prepare them to go on to graduate studies? I think that’s a much more valid measure for a parent: am I going to get my value if I’m going to send my child to Washington College? Am I going to get my value out of that? That’s a good indicator to a family that if you send a student here, we have faculty members who are going to lead them and prepare them for graduate studies.”

This achievement was unexpected, but not undeserved.

“I would say my initial reaction was slight surprise since we are such a small school,” said Trusheim. “However, the science programs here have always been strong, and this result is substantive verification of the high quality preparation our students can receive for graduate school.”

These impressive rankings provide parents and students with quantitative data and help WC stand out among the multitude of other colleges. These numbers, however, can only go so far.

“What really helps us with admissions is when students visit campus,” said Holt. “They walk on the campus and it just feels comfortable and all these other things aside, it is really important when a student gets here and spends the time to think about the fit. Does this feel like a place where I can feel at home? That’s where we seal the deal.

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