August 19, 2008
Westminster Fares Well in Ranking of Top U.S. Colleges
By ABRAHAM MAHSHIE
Westminster College isn't a "hidden gem" anymore. A new Forbes magazine college ranking puts the Fulton liberal arts school at No. 39, ahead of stalwarts such as the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and Dartmouth.
"That's pretty cool, isn't it?" Barney Forsythe, president of Westminster College, said by phone this morning. "In all candor, I think what we're seeing with Forbes is an attempt to respond to some of the criticism of other national ranking systems."
Posted at www.forbes.com ahead of the print edition, the Forbes magazine story begins, "Competition is good," and the new ranking certainly draws different names into the mix. Small liberal arts colleges such as Westminster fill the top ranks. Only one school with an enrollment more than 10,000 - the University of Virginia - made the top 50 of 569 ranked schools.
The Forbes methodology is very different from that of the best- known and, at times, controversial college ranking by U.S. News & World Report.
Ohio University economist Richard Vedder and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, who are identified as mostly students, teamed up to draw the lines.
The result: 25 percent of the criteria are drawn from evaluations of courses and instructors found on RateMyProfessors.com, and 25 percent are a function of how many of the school's alumni are listed on Who's Who in America. The other half are based on the average student debt at graduation, the percentage of students graduating in four years, and the number of students or faculty who won nationally competitive awards. All criteria are adjusted for enrollment.
"I think rankings are always significant," said Charles McClain, former Missouri higher education commissioner and the current interim president of Fairmont State University in West Virginia. "Everyone in higher education tends to have a backlash against rankings, but I notice that whenever an institution is ranked by one of these surveys or one of these organizations, they're always quick to use it in their promotional material."
Westminster's Web site lists the Forbes ranking at the top of its latest news, followed by a story about the "Best Midwestern College" ranking by The Princeton Review.
Forsythe praised Forbes for entering the college ranking debate and considering criteria that get at the heart of what he said Westminster does best: quality instruction.
"I would say that the real strong suit is the personal attention and the quality of instruction," he said, explaining that Westminster enriches the student experience by creating an active learning environment that integrates internships, study abroad and an international community. Westminster's student body is 13 percent international students, and enrollment this fall is a record high of about 980.
Among the schools Westminster beats out are large research universities such as the University of Missouri, which boasts world- renowned faculty and is ranked 264th.
Although the Forbes survey takes into account faculty recognition, smaller schools and personal attention seem to win out.
Other Missouri schools making the list are: Washington University in St. Louis, 146; William Jewell College, 249; Rockhurst University, 298; Drury University, 304; Truman State University, 445; Missouri State University, 471; Saint Louis University, 473; Missouri University of Science and Technology, 517; and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 539.
"What is says nationally is that yes, it's important to have the highest quality faculty that have national reputations, but what is important at the end of the day is the individual attention that faculty give students," Forsythe said.
"We were identified several years ago as a `hidden gem in higher education,' and I like to say the Forbes ranking along with other recognition emphasizes the gem, and I hope that this recognition makes us hidden no longer."
Reach Abraham Mahshie at (573) 815-1733 or [email protected]
Originally published by ABRAHAM MAHSHIE of the Tribune's staff.
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