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ISSUE 120 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/4/2007

Administration fudges facts

By Koya Kato
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 4, 2007

Three issues ago, in an article titled "Ideals not in Action," English major Devin Horne identified St. Olaf College's “"low self-esteem [and] its need to push an image." He noted that the College insists "on telling itself that it is what it is not."

I would like to expand on this claim by logically dissecting the four most misleading facts that St. Olaf College consistently touts in order to advertise itself.

Misleading Fact: St. Olaf ranks 1st among baccalaureate colleges nationwide in the number of graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics and statistics, 4th in medical sciences, 5th in life sciences, and 7th in chemistry.

At first glance, this sounds extremely impressive. However, you must notice that they are talking about the number of graduates who get Ph.D.s, not the percentage.

St. Olaf is very large for a baccalaureate college, currently housing 3,041 students. In comparison, places like Amherst, Swarthmore, Williams and Carleton colleges all have smaller enrollments. Having this many students to begin with, the number of graduates who go on to get a Ph.D. in almost any major will naturally outrank that of elite liberal arts colleges that are invariably smaller than St. Olaf.

If instead you rank the percentage of students who go on to earn a Ph.D. among baccalaureate colleges in the nation, St. Olaf ranks 17th in medical sciences, 33rd in life sciences, 25th in chemistry, and third in mathematics and statistics. (Sure, third is still pretty good. However, saying that the college ranks first when it is actually third is tremendously misleading -- think about the Olympic Games.)

All this is meant to say is that their claim reflects quantity, not quality. There's nothing notable about winning a game of tug-of-war against giants if you have more than 1,000 extra members on your team.

Misleading Fact: In year 2006, St. Olaf College built a wind turbine that powers one third of the College's electricity. This proves the college's commitment to environmentalism and sustainability.

This is not true. The College built the wind turbine only because it amounted 20 percent of the actual price tag. Despite decades of lobbying by environmentally concerned students and faculty, the College never started building the wind turbine until it received a grant from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund that gave them around 80 percent of the money needed to build it.

This is not because the College could not afford to buy it with their own money, as they claim. The wind turbine costs $1.9 million, which is less than 1 percent of St. Olaf College's total endowment (Yes, I know that most of the endowment is spread through investment vehicles and is not readily accessible, but I'm talking about 1 percent here.) I think that any self-proclaimed environmentalist college should be willing to spend about 1 percent of their total endowment to build a wind turbine rather than wait years for a grant.

Another important thing to note here is that the cost of building the wind turbine will pay for itself in about 12 years with the power it generates.The College's unwillingness to even make a purchase that will pay itself back shows how apathetic the college actually is towards environmental issues.

Misleading Fact: St. Olaf is becoming more and more selective each year.

The rise in the number of applicants is a nationwide trend among undergraduate institutions, not just at St. Olaf. In fact, the rate of applications to St. Olaf is rising slower than many other schools in the nation. For this reason, many college ranking authorities such as "The Princeton Review" have been dropping St. Olaf's selectivity ratings for the past several years. So actually, when compared to other colleges in the nation, St. Olaf is getting less and less selective by the year.

Misleading Fact: St. Olaf is featured as one of the 40 Colleges in a book called "Colleges that Change Lives" by Loren Pope.

This is much less impressive than it sounds. Contrary to popular belief, this book does not list colleges that Mr. Pope considers to be "the best." The full title of the book's previous edition explains this well. It was called "Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student." Basically, the targeted audience of this book are college-bound seniors who cannot hope to get into any schools "with a name."

Also, this book is known among many high school guidance counselors to drop with every successive edition (check out the Amazon reviews) any featured college that becomes too competitive for their targeted reader. Recently dropped schools include Bard College and Grinnell College.

British politician Benjamin Disraeli said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Unfortunately, St. Olaf College in its current state is successfully satisfying his definition of a "lie."

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