Tufts University received a boost in college rankings recently released by two national magazines. Tufts landed at No. 28 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 “Best National Universities” list unveiled on Sept. 12, up one spot from last year. Forbes Magazine’s annual ranking of 650 top colleges across the country now lists Tufts at No. 32, seven spots higher than its standing last year.
Yet Tufts’ upward moment in these lists means little to many university officials and students, who dispute the importance of overall rankings in assessing the quality of a Tufts education. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin acknowledged that rankings create a stir every year after their release, but questioned the methodology used to calculate them.
“On the magazine’s website, the editor of the college rankings issue, Robert Morse, acknowledges that ‘the intangibles that make up the college experience can’t be measured by a series of data points,’” Coffin told.
Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler agreed that the methodology used to determine rankings is potentially flawed and downplayed the importance of promoting the university through its rankings.
“There is no doubt that some rankings are influential,” Thurler said in an email. “However, ranking methodology typically incorporates many components that vary greatly from one organization to the next and those methodologies may or may not be sound.”
Coffin said that the secondary statistics U.S. News produces are more useful in demonstrating a university’s quality than the rankings themselves. Tufts’ freshman retention rate of 96.5 percent is roughly the same as most “Top 30” universities, according to Coffin. The statistic that 69.1 percent of Tufts classes have 20 or fewer students is also comparable to other top universities, he added.
“Those are very useful things for an applicant to know,” Coffin said.
He noted that some universities may rank well overall but are lacking in certain secondary areas, such as four-year graduation rates.
Coffin pointed out in particular the disparity between Tufts and the California Institute of Technology in U.S News’ rankings. Tufts is ranked No.19 for graduation and retention, whereas the California Institute of Technology ranks 18 spots above Tufts overall but is No. 24 in graduation and retention.
Students expressed mixed opinions on the role of rankings in the college search and selection process.
“The rankings weren’t going to make any decisions for me, but… I think the schools that have better rankings generally get better professors, as far as I’ve been told,” Mallory Feldman, a freshman, said.
Freshman Safiya Nanji, who attended high school in Canada, said she did consider rankings when applying to colleges.
“I definitely had my own criteria first, and college rankings were one of the criteria,” Nanji said.
“Our guidance counselors would push us to apply to the universities ranked higher up,” she added.
Though freshman Danielle Poindexter attended a “competitive” high school as well, rankings were not as important to her during the college search process.
“I wasn’t going to apply to a school that I felt wasn’t competitive enough for me, but I wasn’t too worried about applying to an Ivy or a ‘Little Ivy,’” Poindexter said.