Vassar Drop In US News Rankings

Faculty salary may be an error or typo. USNWR says they are using 2020 for faculty salary. If so, I believe Vassar’s rank for faculty salary would be approximately 19th among LACs prior to compensating for cost of living. I’d expect Vassar’s faculty salary rank to be in the 10th to 15th range after adjusting for cost of living (the higher salary colleges are often in high cost of living areas). If USNWR says Vassar’s rank for faculty salary is #52, that sounds incorrect.

1 Like

You’re being way too kind to USNews. See, my explanation at post #8. They’re not using any universally recognizable source for their data on faculty salaries but rather their own silly formula designed to cause outsized shifts in the rankings. It’s all quite deliberate.


Faculty salaries are listed in American Association of University Professors. USNWR says they are at least using American Association of University Professors for the faculty salary grouping definitions. It’s not clear whether they are getting the salaries directly from AAUP or having the colleges list a number in the USNWR info request. USNWR says they adjust this number based on cost of living using USBEA cost of living index for Dec 2020.

USNWR isn’t just making up numbers. The faculty salary, student faculty ratio, class size, and other components should match other sources. The problem is more expecting a formula based on arbitrary weightings of arbitrary criteria like 8% class size, 7% faculty salary, … to be a meaningful measure of which college is “best.”

Note that last year, when Vassar placed 13th, USN reported a faculty resources rank for it of 69. A change in overall rank from 13th to 22nd would not appear to be attributable to this factor alone.

If Williams had dropped six points in overall score, as Vassar has, it would have fallen from 1st place in the rankings to 2nd.

1 Like

Yes they are. They may be getting the raw material from legitimate sources, but they are putting it through their own sausage factory. You don’t have to be a data scientist to realize that putting all the assistant professors, associate profs and tenured profs into one mixing bag, shaking it a few times then dividing it by the faculty roster is nuts, if you’re really interested in arriving at easily verifiable and intellectually honest results regarding a particular college’s faculty salaries. All it does is penalize a college for making new hires right out of graduate school. And, what colleges do that? Primarily, LACs do that.


Thanks to all the Berenstain data detectives on this thread. To put the cost of living point in perspective, you can currently buy the former Poughkeepsie mayor’s house with 2 acres, and a mile and a half from campus, for less than the price of a Manhattan studio. FYI, I have no affiliation with the selling broker.

1 Like

There is a difference between making up numbers and choosing meaningful criteria. The salary raw data is not made up and should match other sources, including the raw AAUP faculty salary publication . However, I agree that taking this raw average salary figure is not an accurate way to compare faculty compensation, and the 7% weighting assigned to faculty salary in their formula is an arbitrary selection.

A similar statement could be made about nearly any pf the components of their formula. If you make up formula with 20% weighting to a “marginal” / “distinguished” survey + 10% weighting to financial resources per student + 7% weighting to average faculty salary + … , that formula is not going to accurately measure which college is “best.”

Using a formula with numbers may make the rankings sound scientific to some, but the weightings selections are far from what nearly any student would prioritize in what makes the college “best” for him/her, so it is not surprising that the output of the formula is not a reflection of what college is actually “best” for nearly any student. I expect the weightings selections instead primarily relate to perpetuating expectations, which makes the rakings look right to many regular readers, ultimately increasing earnings on CollegeCompass sales for USNWR,

1 Like

The truly sad part is that parents and students give such credence to these ratings in making a college choice. The degrading of Vassar’s ranking undoubtedly will cause some class of 2026 applicants to forego it believing that it is a school in decline. In fact, last year was a tremendous year for the college given all of the pandemic impediments, and it had more applicants than ever. Its commitment to veterans as well as to the LGBTQ community makes it a veritable melting pot of differing ideas and backgrounds shared by brilliant students. We were blessed with many children who attended many different schools. Our youngest attended Vassar and chose it over Swarthmore, the Claremont schools and JHU, to name a few. It turned out to be an outstanding choice and experience. Yet, many similarly situated students may take Vassar off their list due to the US News ranking which would be a huge mistake.


I believe the polite term for it is, cherry-picking.

1 Like

To be fair, don’t those factors affect many / most other T20 LACs as well?

I hear the emotion and disgust in your (online) voice and I empathize. But it just goes to show, we like rankings that rank us highly and we hate those that don’t. If Vassar were still #11, it’s unlikely you’d be picking your way through US News’ ranking criteria to find a reason to question the validity of its methodology.

FWIW, whether Vassar is ranked #11 or #111, I tend to think of it as a very comparable peer to Wesleyan and many other schools up and down the T20. The schools have more in common than they do differences. So, likewise, when Wesleyan was at its low of, what was it, #21 (it’s now magically tied for #17), I wouldn’t have scored Vassar as being substantively 10 rungs up the ladder. YMMV.

Honestly, do you want people who are that shortsighted and clueless at Vassar? I don’t. Do people like that frequently go on and do anything meaningful or noteworthy in life? I find that person type shallow, boring and predictable. There are enough interesting people out there to allow all of us to take a pass on individuals from that cohort. Consider it a positive culling of the herd that Vassar admissions didn’t need to do. Addition by subtraction.

1 Like

Or, a variation on “garbage in / garbage out”. In this case, “good data in / bad data out” - where the function is to blame, not the data.

@circuitrider , didn’t Wesleyan have an issue with US News a few years back on this very same point of faculty pay? How did that square with this data, which has Wes at #7 overall, #4 for professors, #7 for associate profs and #6 for assistant professors:

As to the point some are making about how far the faculty dollar will go in Poughkeepsie, almost all New England (and upstate NY) LACs are in relatively affordable locations. Barnard, Swat, Haverford, Wellesley, the Claremonts, Richmond, Reed and a few others probably can’t make that point.

Last year, at least, “faculty resources” was a virtually neutral component for Wesleyan, which, with a general rank of 20, had a faculty resources rank of 19. For perspective, schools such as Swarthmore (3rd by general ranking), Pomona (4th), Wellesley (5th) and Bowdoin (6th) overcame worse faculty resources ranks (22, 22, 31 and 44, respectively) than that of Wesleyan.

Yes, and the fall is particularly steep for colleges like Wesleyan and Vassar where more of their wealth - as a proportion of the budget - is spent on academics while getting absolutely no brownie points from USNews for economies of scale in dining, bookstore, (sports!), administrative overhead and other items that contribute to the smaller NESCAC’s “spending per student” metric.

1 Like

It wasn’t last year. It may have been 2016 or 2017 based on the dates of the Wesleyan thread discussing the second year of Wes’ tumble from its perch in the mid to high teens to 21. There we see the fall caused a Wesleyan alumnus to start a thread with similar passion to this one. I think that thread is pinned to the top of the Wes forum for some odd reason.

At any rate, @circuitrider makes a good point. It will inevitably be an accident of history for any college to have waves of retirements and new hirings in a given year which thus causes a swing in the raw data average. The data at least breaks it down by faculty seniority (full, associate, assistant, etc.) and then gives an overall ranking. To really capture which schools pay their faculty well and which don’t, you’d need to do, say, a ten-year trailing average and then as others have pointed out account for the few LACs that are located in expensive areas ($167,000 means entirely different things in Boston/NY City than it does in Lewiston, Maine) and adjust downward accordingly. Given how important the school rankings edition is to US News, it would seem that it could do a little more homework on this admittedly critical variable.

Also, given how highly Wes is ranked in the univstats data, I wonder what US News does to the raw data in its model to push Wes down to 20. The only categories in which Wes ranks lower than #7 is in lecturer / instructor.

All this discussion seems to substantiate @circuitrider 's point made some time ago that colleges are complex organizations and evaluating them with rank order precision over a year-to-year period is difficult if not disingenuous. To the point of this thread, did Vassar become 9 spots worse in one year? Did 9 other schools become better in one year? Unless something catastrophic happened, like say losing 1/2 the endowment when nobody else did, the answer is likely no.

1 Like

Very cogent summation of my views; much better than I could have made them myself.

The Wesleyan thread was pinned there at my suggestion. Granted, it is an old thread, but it is one of those bemusing subjects that continue to pop up, i.e., “If Wesleyan is so great, why is its USNews ranking so low?”*

(*For further evidence of Wesleyan’s real-world reputation, there is this snippet from a recent NYT article regarding the sale of POLITICO by its Wesleyan alum owner, Robert Allbritton:

It was late in 2006, and he was recruiting me for a new project, a superblog called The Politico. I was interested, but I had a few questions about the owner. I had never heard of Robert Allbritton and I asked if he’d be the kind of billionaire publisher who wanted to see his own column on the front page, or if he’d be the other kind of wealthy owner, a dilettante who gets quickly bored with his new plaything.

Mr. Harris answered my question in cryptic Washington-speak: “He went to Wesleyan.” And it seemed to me that his mention of the freethinking liberal arts college in Connecticut meant something like: “He’s mostly harmless.”>
Inside Politico’s Billion-Dollar Drama - The New York Times)

1 Like

I have always viewed Vassar and Wesleyan as tied at the hip in terms of student body diversity, quality of education, and overall smiles on the faces of people who go there. I have also wondered in the past about Wesleyan continued rating snubs by US News. Is life that much better in Northfield, MN? Now Vassar is in the same boat.


My kid picked Vassar over several top 30 universities and top 15 LACs and couldn’t be happier. I think that especially with LACs the rankings are ridiculous. Ranking West Point, Washington and Lee, and the Naval Academy alongside Vassar and Wesleyan makes very little sense. ALL are fantastic schools, but clearly suited for different types of students. Within the “top tier” of these schools, it really should be about fit and location way more than ranking.

Vassar is an outstanding liberal arts college, I’d say one of the “best” at what it does. That’s good enough for me.


Well put.

Me, too, which is why I was stumped when my D loved Vassar, but wasn’t feeling it for Wes. She applied to both and was accepted at Vassar, dinged at Wes – guess her feelings came through?!

1 Like

In my decade or so of getting into it with young posters who prefer Vassar over Wes, there seems to be a common disdain for elements of “Old Wesleyan” - the Greek societies (no matter how nerdy they really are); the tailgate parties; the obsession with beating Amherst; grown men in full body armor trying to “sack” someone in full view of the college library - all those things seem at odds with the avant garde arts center, the slam poetry readings, the goths, the hipsters, the BLM protests, and so-on and so-on. People who like Wesleyan either have a high tolerance for ambiguity or a sense of humor. Or, both.

1 Like