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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Report reveals rise in ratings

By Maren Anderson
Contributing Writer
and Margaret Wade
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 16, 2005

The US News and World Report college rankings issue was released Aug. 19 to eager perspective students and colleges across the country. St. Olaf College jumped seven places since last year, placing 55th overall in the annual rankings of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation. The rankings are based on the academic reputation of the school, admissions selectivity, retention and graduation rates, class size, financial resources and alumni giving.

According to Vice-President and Dean of Enrollment Michael Kyle, "Students and parents initially pay great attention to rankings, but in the end the overall fit comes first." Many parts compose the "fit" for perspective students in addition to rank, including location, size, academic rigor, music and sports.

"It was nice to read that St. Olaf ranked third for food in The Princeton Review, but the reputation of the choral department was most important to me," Daniel Greco ’09 said. For other students, the rankings were not as important. "When I was looking at schools, I never looked at the rankings," Laura Oliver '09 said. "I chose St. Olaf based on the atmosphere."

According to Director of Communications Amy Gage, the academic reputation ranking increased from 39th to 35th place, the retention rate increased from 36th to 33rd place, and graduation rates from 43rd to 33rd place.

"We plan to use the rankings, but it won’t change the reputation alone," Gage said. "By showcasing students and faculty, St. Olaf will become a more prominent liberal arts college across the nation."

Kyle agreed. "I believe that as St. Olaf is better known nationally, the rankings will continue to increase," he said.

There has been no conscious effort to improve rankings, yet the admissions office continuously strives to find ways to improve the profile, hoping to better reflect the mission and strategic plan of the college. It is too soon to draw a correlation between increased applications and rankings for the incoming class, but St. Olaf’s rankings have been steadily increasing over the past 10 years. This climb may be attributed to the addition of the Buntrock Commons, Bon Appétit dining service, the Tostrud Center, residence hall improvements and better financial management.

Although some St. Olaf community members reacted positively to the news, some skepticism remains. "The closer you are to the rankings, the more cynical you get about them," Dean of Students Greg Kneser said. "I try to understand the background information and what’s important to students, rather than the numbers."

Kneser is skeptical about the US News rankings because they are based heavily on the inputs, measuring the constants such as amount of endowment and students rejected.

"St. Olaf can be more accurately measured by outputs, looking at the student experience," Kneser said. "Whether St. Olaf is ranked third, or sixty-third, I would be satisfied because I believe in the quality of the academic program we’re providing."

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