Vassar Drop In US News Rankings

Today’s announcement that Vassar has dropped 10 spots in the liberal arts colleges rankings is very perplexing. The school did a phenomenal job keeping its covid numbers down while making some in person classes available during the pandemic. US News indicated that it imposed an ACT/SAT related deduction for schools who accepted more than 50% of their students without considering the students’ test scores. I wonder if Vassar fell into that category as its acceptance rate was an all-time low which should have boosted its ranking.

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Unclear what happened. Based on the notes on methodology provided by US News it appears that they might have used old data for these rankings,

“However, the latest data available for the ranking calculations pertained to fall 2020 and earlier. Notably, SAT/ACT scores mostly reflect a test-taking period from 2019 to early 2020, before the effects of the coronavirus were felt in the United States.”

So I don’t think the rankings reflect Class of 2025 stats at all.

I also don’t think the rankings reflect how well a school handled Covid, among a host of other things that might be deemed important.

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Note that Vassar dropped nine rankings places, from #13 last year, to #22 this year.

Thanks for the clarification as it still represents the largest drop by far of any of the top 30 liberal arts colleges. I was trying to think of the possible reasons. Did “SpongeBob SquarePants” get poor reviews on Broadway? Perhaps Lisa Kudrow had a movie flop, or Ms. Mr. failed to make an ACL show? Then again maybe a fire burned down the beautiful library, rampaging deer tore up the highly rated athletic fields, a bunch of quality professors left when their Poughkeepsie property values increased during the pandemic, too many veterans were admitted post service, or just too large a percentage of graduates went to medical or law school. There is one most likely reason for Vassar to drop out of the top twenty after decades of being in it–their SAT/ACT policy. Moving away from tests that have been proven to be discriminatory, and after the “Varsity Blues” prosecution also proven to have been able to be bought, should be lauded rather than punished by U.S. News.

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You would have to subscribe to USNWR to see the score details…then you would be able to compare exactly what factors changed from year to year. Outcomes? Social mobility? Peer assessment? If I had to pick one it would be peer assessment because that is 20% of the rankings.

Unlikely that peer assessment for a school founded in the 1860’s and who declined Yale’s invitation to join forces would have a significant drop in peer assessment during a covid year unless the school had to shut down because it didn’t take precautions which is the exact opposite of what actually happened. The culprit is likely found here from US News: “If a school had less than 50% of entering students submit test scores, its SAT/ACT scores in the rankings were discounted by 15%. For the 2022 edition, only 4% of ranked schools reporting SAT/ACT data on their fall 2020 entering classes incurred this discount.” A 15% degrading of SAT/ACT scores is ginormous. A 750 SAT score average becomes a 637. How whack is that?

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USNWR has always penalized for high test optional classes. Remember testing is just 5% of the rankings.

Further, it looks like Vassar would not have been penalized for the Class of 2024 (first years in Fall 2020) testing methodology, because according to the CDS 64% of matriculants submitted an SAT and 40% submitted an ACT. The class of 2024 was not really affected by Covid in terms of access to test taking. https://offices.vassar.edu/institutional-research/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/2021/09/Vassar-CDS_2020-2021.pdf

Again, if you want to compare the ranking details to analyze why Vassar’s decrease, you have to pay to see the data.

Edited to put in correct data for Vassar, not Wesleyan. Getting my threads mixed up!

Even without looking at this year’s methodology, I would wager that Faculty Strength (or whatever they’re calling it this year) is the most likely culprit. In years past, USNews has bundled all faculty compensation into one denominator and divided by the entire roster. Thus, if in any given year, there is an infusion of new hires or an entire cohort of tenured faculy retires, the entire metric takes a dive. It effects all the NESCAC colleges disproportionately and is just another one of the tricks the magazine has at its disposal to make the data look fresh every year.

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Or given how over enrolled Wesleyan is perhaps Wesleyan is simply drawing away the most talented kids from Vassar says the VC alum to the Wesleyan alum😀.

I visited last year and the school looks amazing facility wise and the quality of education remains top notch. The students remain engaged, politically active, and diverse.

I wouldn’t let the rankings impact your opinions. I never get asked what is the school ranked although I do get wasn’t that a girls school a fair bit.

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This years ranking for fall 2020 admits
Next years ranking you will see the “penalty” if they are more than 50% test optional
However, this can be offset by “skewed” higher test scores of those submitting tests
IE. Applicants looking at last years results and if below 50% range applying test optional

For schools at which this would apply, the adjustment may be made using the base SAT score of 200. If this represents the case, a 15% reduction would result in an adjusted score of 667.5.

I doubt it’s TO. Bowdoin has been TO since the 1980s and is consistently a top school. With that said, they do get scores from most students, if not as part of their application, then upon enrollment.

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USNWR’s website lists the sub-scores on individual components of their formula, so you could review which of those components have changed. Unfortunately most of the relevant information requires paying USNWR $40 to view. The far more limited free information shows the following. The USNWR listed graduation rate dropped slightly, but that may not be the primary factor.

Overall Score – 89 in 2021; 83 in 2022
Graduation rate – 91%/91%/91% in 2021; 90%/86%/88% in 2022
Classes with <20 – 67% in 2021; 68% in 2022

Thanks Data10. If the class of 2021 had a lower graduation rate than in 2020, the most likely reason is not the school but Covid. Some students took Fall 2020 or Winter 2021 off due to Covid concerns even though the school was open. Vassar has a large percentage of international students who may have had home country restrictions that precluded matriculation. Moreover, Vassar has a large percentage of athletes many of whom lost their senior competitive seasons and some decided to stay one more year as an undergrad as Vassar doesn’t have graduate schools. To use Covid affected graduation statistics would be folly under the circumstances.

Like SAT scores, USNWR is using old numbers. The graduation rate is for kids who started in 2011-2014 , then reviewing if they graduated by 2017-20. The figures with the largest decline were for the group that started in 2013-14.

Vassar ranked 18th in graduation/retention, 32nd in social mobility, 32nd in Graduate Debt, 81st in faculty resources, 17th in Financial Resources, 12th in Student Excellence and 55th in Alumni Giving.

The big hit seems to be Faculty Resources, where they were 52nd in compensation and lagged all schools ranked at #17 in percentage of full-time faculty and percentage of faculty with PhDs/terminal degrees (87% vs. 100, 100, 99, 97, 91).

Peer Assessment is 4.2 and doesn’t have a ranking. I didn’t check every school, but the five schools ranked just ahead at #17 scored 4.1, 4.1, 4.1, 4.1 and 4.3. The schools at their old #13 position averaged 4.23. So this doesn’t seem to be a big factor.

Unfortunately, Wayback Machine hasn’t cached previous premium content, so I can’t compare to last year.

Neither founding date nor proposed mergers (that appear to be) from 55 years ago were in the scoring criteria, nor should they be, IMO. I suspect the peers providing ratings were also not heavily influenced by founding date or 1967 merger discussions.

As noted, TO score adjustments did not affect them. The scores listed in the rankings are consistent with their CDS.

All data is from 2019-20 and older. COVID effects will start hitting USN evaluations next year.

A school’s history can certainly affect the resilience of its peer assessment. No doubt Harvard benefits from its claim as the first institution of higher education in the colonies, and that legacy is almost 500 years old. Here are Vassar’s rankings over the previous 10 years–an amazing demonstration of consistency similar to Williams, Amherst, or Swarthmore in their respective positions as 1, 2, and 3: 13, 14, 11, 12, 12, 12, 11, 12, 10, 14, 12. Moving Vassar down 9 spots in a given year is like moving Williams from 1 to the 10 spot in a single year, a result that would literally cause many to question the merit of any of the US News rankings.

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A comparison between RichInPitt’s current stats from when Vassar was ranked #22 and a year when Vassar was ranked #11 as listed at Vassar College Rankings – Top Schools in the USA is below:

Graduation/Retention (22%) – Dropped from #9 to #18
Faculty Resources (20%) – Dropped from #16 to #81
Peer Assessment (20%) – Remained Unchanged at 4.2
Financial Resources (10%) – Dropped from #10 to #17
Student Excellence (7%) – Improved from #14 to #12
Alumni Giving (3%) – Improved from #73 to #55

The bulk of the drop in rankings seems to involve the faculty resources category. Subcomponents of this ranking are below. I’m not seeing which one had a major change? It’s possible that either USNWR made an error or one of the referenced sources is incorrect.

Class Size (8%) – Portion <20 – Dropped from 70% to 68%
Faculty Salary (7%) – No major change? (See Faculty Salary by Academic Rank at Vassar College | UnivStats)
Faculty with PhD/terminal (3%) – 87% in 2020, 89% in 2019, 91% in 2018 (CDS)
Faculty full Time (1%) – No major change
Student Faculty Ratio (1%) – Unchanged at 8:1

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Bingo.