Define "ranking"


If the U.S. News and World Report rankings were the World Series or the Super Bowl, police would clear Hyde Park’s streets while a Maroon phoenix led rowdy fans back from today’s game, as the University of Chicago recaptured its No. 9 spot (last held in 2002)—leaving cross-town rival Northwestern at No. 14.

In the 2006 rankings, published in the August 21 issue and released today, Chicago tied for ninth best national university with Dartmouth College and Columbia University. The triumph didn’t result from new power-hitters or quarterbacks. Michael Behnke, vice president for University relations and dean of College enrollment, says the jump from last year’s No. 15 ranking has two main causes.

One factor is a rise in graduation rate, from 87 percent reported in U.S. News last year to 91 percent this year. To explain this increase Behnke points to student surveys the University has conducted for the past several years, which show more students participating in extracurricular activities, foreign studies, and internships as a result of the University’s increased “investments in student life.” The University’s efforts resulted in “higher levels of student satisfaction,” which, Behnke says, translates into a higher graduation rate.

A second factor, according to Behnke, has to do with how the University fills out its forms. “We’ve paid attention to how U.S. News & World Report defines things versus how we do.” Now the U of C’s Common Core writing program counts as a writing seminar, increasing the University’s percentage of small classes. In previous years the University also underreported its per-student spending by filing library expenditures in a category other than educational expenses. This year library spending was taken into account.

Despite the U of C’s leap, Behnke says that College applicants are too “sophisticated” to simply rely on one number when judging colleges. Although overall rankings are “not helpful,” he says, subcategories like percentage of classes with less than 20 students and graduation rate do provide useful information.

Perhaps the first challenge for future Chicago students is figuring out the ratings game. And even though rankings don’t matter, here are this year’s best national universities, according to U.S. News:

1. Princeton University
2. Harvard University
3. Yale University
4. California Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stanford University
7. University of Pennsylvania
8. Duke University
9. Columbia University
Dartmouth College
University of Chicago

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photo: Graduates high-five at the 2006 ceremony.

Photo by Dan Dry

August 18, 2006