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US college rankings multiply

In the game of collegiate rankings, Loyola University Maryland is a perennial backbencher, tucked away on an inside page of U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of “America’s Best Colleges.”

world Updated: Feb 17, 2010 01:13 IST
Daniel de Vise

In the game of collegiate rankings, Loyola University Maryland is a perennial backbencher, tucked away on an inside page of U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of “America’s Best Colleges.”

But on the National Survey of Student Engagement, Loyola is a strong performer.

It rates highly on such measures as academic challenge and student-faculty interaction. “The students are definitely the number one priority,” said Dan Nieves, 21, a Loyola senior from Merrick, New York.

He learned of the university not from a newsmagazine, but from some friends who had matriculated there and “had nothing but good things to say about it.”

The U.S. News ranking and its imitators generally reward the same group of wealthy and selective institutions. There isn’t much room at the top, and thousands of colleges don’t make the list.

That has frustrated and angered many university administrators, who resent it when their school is reduced to one (poor) numerical figure.

The student engagement survey, abbreviated NSSE or “Nessie,” is higher education’s response.

Introduced 10 years ago by Indiana University researchers to counter to U.S. News’s compilation, the survey has won buy-ins from 1,400 colleges, with about half that number participating each year.

Twenty-seven years since the first U.S. News rankings were published, academe is awash in alternatives.

There are rankings by Forbes, Kiplinger, College Prowler and Princeton Review; international rankings from Britain and China; and a host of new-and-better measures that sort colleges on such things as student course evaluations and the number of hits on a college’s website.

Another recent entry, from the Association of College Trustees and Alumni, grades colleges according to what courses they require students to take. (Harvard gets a D.)

For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com