Why is Wellesley ranked so high?

<p>I hope I'm not offending anybody with this question, but I was recently stumbling through the rankings (US News and World Report) and saw Wellesley was ranked 4th - higher than such schools including Pomona, Bowdoin, CMC, Wesleyan etc. I was simply wondering why, since numbers-wise, Wellesley does not seem nearly as strong as these colleges. </p>

<p>For instance, Wellesley's 25/75 SAT scores are 1280-1470, significantly lower than Bowdoin's 1320-1500, Pomona's 1400-1550, CMC's 1310-1510, or Wesleyan's 1290-1500.</p>

<p>Freshman in top 10% of their class compose 78% of Wellesley's class, but 82% of Bowdoin's, 92% of Pomona's and 85% of CMC's. </p>

<p>Additionally, Wellesley's acceptance rate is 35% much higher than the 19%, 16%, 16% and 22% of the schools I named earlier. </p>

<p>Bowdoin and Pomona have lower student/faculty ratios than Wellesley (which is actually tied with CMC and Wesleyan.) </p>

<p>Finally, Bowdoin, Pomona and CMC have higher freshman retention rates, and all four have better graduation rates. </p>

<p>So, with all of that information, why is Wellesley ranked as a top 5 liberal arts school? (I actually believe Davidson, Haverford, and Carleton are better colleges too but their numbers are more mixed). Is it because Wellesley is still considered the best woman's college in the country and that helps the colleges rankings a lot? </p>

<p>Thanks for reading!</p>



<p>That’s your problem right there.</p>



<p>Inane as they are, USNWR’s criteria are not entirely numbers-based.</p>



<p>Wellesley’s SAT scores are not significantly lower than those of any of the schools you listed, save Pomona’s, and even there the difference is nowhere near gaping.</p>

<p>Harvey Mudd’s incoming freshmen typically have the highest SAT scores of any LAC, by the way (1420-1560, if I’m not mistaken). Harvey Mudd is ranked 18th by USNWR. Big deal. (I do think HMC deserves more recognition, but not because of its middle-50% SAT scores.)</p>



<p>I fail to see how this in any way is reflective of a gap in quality between Wellesley and Bowdoin, for example, or even Wellesley and Pomona.</p>



<p>Commendable indeed. All of these schools, however, have very low student-faculty ratios. It is extremely unlikely that you’ll ever find yourself in a situation where your school’s student-faculty ratio being 10:1 instead of 9:1 will put you at a tangible disadvantage.</p>



<p>So? Again, why would this fact make Wellesley less deserving of the title of 4th best liberal arts college according to US News & World Report?</p>

<p>Women’s colleges tend to have higher acceptance rates than their peer coed institutions, by the way.</p>



<p>Because USNWR uses a formula to calculate its rankings, and that formula obviously makes Wellesley look ‘better’ than Pomona, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, etc. Get over it.</p>

<p>^ So what point did you even make, other than essentially saying “so” to every point the OP made?</p>

<p>That was precisely my point actually.</p>

<p>But if I must give a more constructive answer:</p>

<p>The OP is surprised by Wellesley’s position. I suggest the OP familiarize him- or herself with USNWR’s criteria.</p>

<p>[Methodology:</a> Undergraduate Ranking Criteria and Weights - US News and World Report](<a href=“http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2010/08/17/methodology-undergraduate-ranking-criteria-and-weights-2011]Methodology:”>http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2010/08/17/methodology-undergraduate-ranking-criteria-and-weights-2011)</p>

<p>The statistics he or she seems to think are so important only account for 36% of a LAC’s overall score.</p>

<p>You found faults in my argument without actually making any points of your own. Why do you think Wellesley should be ranked where it is? What makes it a stronger school than Pomona, CMC or Bowdoin? </p>

<p>I believe (for the most part) that students make the school. This why I presented many of the statistics I did; these figures, I believe, show the other schools I mentioned have stronger student body than Wellesley. </p>

<p>Additionally, when I pointed out the schools SAT scores you maintained that “Wellesley’s SAT scores are not significantly lower.” As someone who just went through the college process, I believe there a difference of 30 or 40 points is pretty significant.</p>

<p>So if I understand you correctly, your issue is not really about why Wellesley is ranked so highly, but a complaint that you think it shouldn’t be, based on your belief about what’s important?</p>

<p>His point really is that US News & World Report is not an accurate measure of quality. That’s the perspective that most people here would respond with.</p>

<p>Objectively, yes, the other schools you mentioned are better.</p>

<p>When looking at the acceptance rate of a women’s college it is not fair to directly compare it to a co-ed school since half of the population is not eligible to apply. When you halve wellsely’s 35% it becomes %17.5 which is on par with the other schools you are comparing to. Not to mention the applicants to a women’s college tend to be more self-selecting since many will not consider applying due to the lack of men.</p>

<p>Wow, another question… Why isn’t Pomona ranked higher?</p>

<p>OP, the USNews ranking is far from perfect. It’s a private company and very much profit driven. The methodology used was debatable. The motive was also questionable. The results of their ranking were flawed. </p>

<p>USNews are East Coast biased (aside from it is anti public schools). And so schools in other parts of the region are often butchered by the ranking. For example, Columbia was ranked higher than Stanford and Caltech. And, Wellesley was ranked higher than the top CMCs.</p>


Precisely. The criteria for the rankings are laid out quite clearly, and all of the data is available if one pays for it. It is very simple to tell why one college is ranked above another.</p>


You’re making the fundamental mistake of assuming that US News actually measures quality. It doesn’t. It provides a proxy for such a measurement - how good of one is up for debate - but it’s simply an estimate. It’s a bit like ranking the best cities. You can measure cost of living, safety, transportation, and the like, but when it comes right down to it, it remains difficult to say that Portland is a better city than Atlanta simply because the data points say so. What if one weights transportation so that Portland goes up and Atlanta down? What if one weights sunniness so that Atlanta goes up and Portland down? The quality of the cities remains the same. </p>

<p>Wellesley is not stronger than Pomona because US News says so. It’s ranked higher because it performs better in certain areas of the methodology. Is it actually stronger than Pomona? Well, that’s another debate, and one I don’t particularly care to get into. </p>


Interesting you should say that. What about, say…peer assessment?</p>

<p>For example, let’s compare the peer assessment of universities from the 2009 rankings. You’ve commented in favor of peer assessment many times…largely because a certain university performs well. In fact, you’ve used it to trumpet that university’s ranking despite it falling behind several peer private universities in selectivity, class sizes, etc. – indeed, virtually all of the characteristics discussed in this thread. </p>

<p>4.9 Harvard / MIT / Princeton / Stanford
4.8 Yale
4.7 Berkeley
4.6 Caltech / Chicago / Columbia</p>

<p>Now let’s look at the LACs. </p>

<p>4.7 Williams
4.6 Amherst
4.5 Swarthmore / Wellesley
4.3 Bowdoin / Grinnell / Middlebury </p>

<p>If you continue to accept peer assessment - and you really should, if you want to be at all consistent - then you should obviously approve of Wellesley being in the top four LACs.</p>

<p>^ You’re out of point, my friend.</p>

<p>I questioned the overall results of the survey, not a single criterion. And, ironically enough, you questioned one of the most important criteria, if not the most relevant criterion of the survey. It is because of PA’s presence in the criteria that makes the ranking with little substance. Without it, the ranking makes it even a joke. </p>

<p>Again, USNews is East Coast biased, and obviously, anti state universities.</p>

<p>Compare the US News ranking with the stateuniversity.com ranking. stateuniversity does not use PA scores or any other subjective measure, only statistics such as student retention, faculty salary, and student / faculty ratio. These measurements place Wesleyan, Carleton and Bowdoin above Wellesley. stateuniversity ranks Wellesley directly above CMC, Haverford and Davidson.

What is the objective basis for your belief that a different set of results would be better? What objective criteria should be added/deleted to correct the alleged East Coast bias?</p>

<p>You could add for example measurements for research expenditures or faculty scholarly productivity. These would tend to drive up state schools in the national university rankings. State schools in the West, perhaps for historical and demographic reasons, seem to be stronger (in general) than state schools in the Northeast; so, coincidentally, adding these metrics might appear to correct an alleged East Coast bias. However, I’m not sure that these metrics are very good proxies for undergraduate quality. High research spending and FSP might even detract from teaching quality.</p>


Where is the irony? Where did post #11 challenge the criteria, as opposed to simply describing its apparent effects? The PA score appears to be precisely the USNWR criterion that elevates Wellesley above the other schools. Are the PA scores good when they elevate certain Western state universities, but bad when they elevate certain East Coast LACs?</p>

<p>“The PA score appears to be precisely the USNWR criterion that elevates Wellesley above the other schools. Are the PA scores good when they elevate certain Western state universities, but bad when they elevate certain East Coast LACs?”</p>

<p>Yes, apparently! LOL. Too funny. How transparent.</p>

<p>callmejonas1, you sound very much like CaptnJack!</p>



<p>Wellesley is highly ranked because by any measure, it’s an outstanding liberal arts college. It should be highly ranked. I wouldn’t necessarily use the same criteria US News uses, but there are lots of reasons to admire Wellesley.</p>

<p>As to why it’s more highly ranked than other top LACs like Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Pomona, and CMC—well, that’s another story. One could make a strong case for any of those schools being as good as, or even better than Wellesley is certain respects. At that level, incremental differences in quality are going to be largely in the eye of the beholder—or, in a ranking that purports to be quantitative like US News, it’s going to depend on the factors that go into the ranking, and the relative weights given to different categories. That’s why it’s an error to take the US News rankings as seriously as many on CC do. These are all outstanding schools, and I’d be pleased and proud to have my kids go to any of them. Who’s ranked #4 and who #6 and who #10 is just trivia, as far as I’m concerned; once you’re in this elite territory, questions of “fit” should count for more than trivial differences in some arbitrary and highly contestable ranking system. Also, notice that the US News ordinal ranking tends to exaggerate even tiny differences between schools. Some people seem to think it matters who’s #4 (currently a tie between Wellesley and Middlebury) and who’s #6 (currently a tie between Bowdoin and Pomona). But if you go behind the ordinal ranking, Wellesley and Midd have a raw score of 93 out of a possible 100 in US News’ rating system, while Bowdoin and Pomona come out with a rating of 92—a truly insignificant difference.</p>

<p>I would dispute the claim implicit in the OP’s question that selectivity measures—admit rates and median SAT scores—should weigh even more heavily than they already do in the US News ranking. IMO, US News gives too much weight to these factors already—they account for 15% of the total ranking. But if the question is, why does Wellesley come out ahead of the other schools named by the OP despite a higher admit rate and marginally lower SAT scores, the answer is obvious: Wellesley beats those schools on the other 85% of the US News ranking.</p>

<p>The obvious place to start is PA score, which others have mentioned. PA counts for a lot in the US News ranking, but much less than in the past; until last year I believe it was 25% of the total score, now it’s down to 15% (2/3 of 22.5%). Here Wellesley has a clear edge: Wellesley 4.5, Bowdoin 4.3, Pomona 4.2, Wesleyan 4.1, CMC 4.0. This is obviously a highly subjective factor; one might disagree with these ratings, or think there are biases reflected in these figures, or worry about an “echo chamber” effect as high US News rankings beget high PA scores, which in turn beget high US News rankings. PA isn’t perfect; but IMO it does tell us something about the reputation of various colleges among their peer institutions. Unlike some others on CC, I actually don’t think it’s all that hard for college presidents and provosts to make these judgments; they know which of their competitors have faculty, programs, resources, and facilities they covet, and which don’t. In any event, Wellesley’s sterling reputation among its peers is a big part of its strong US News ranking, and it would be hard to say that reputation is undeserved. One might question whether some of the other schools on this list shouldn’t have higher PA scores. Personally, I’d rate them all a bit higher, but I don’t get to fill out the surveys.</p>

<p>But it’s not just PA scores that give Wellesley an edge in the US News ranking. This year for the first time US News included a HS counselor ranking in its rating system, accounting for 7.5% of the total score (1/3 of 22.5%). Here again, Wellesley comes out on top: Wellesley 4.6, Bowdoin 4.5, Pomona 4.5, Wesleyan 4.5, CMC 4.4. Very close, and probably closer to how I’d rank them than the PA scores, but once again Wellesley has the edge. Biases? Echo chamber? Maybe, but for whatever reason HS counselors apparently think more highly of Wellesley than these other schools, albeit by a slim margin, and that makes a difference in US News.</p>

<p>Wellesley also generally beats out these other schools in faculty resources (20% of the total) and in financial resources (10%). “Faculty resources” includes things like faculty salaries, % of faculty with highest degree, % faculty full-time, s/f ratio, and class sizes. Faculty resources rank: Bowdoin #7 among LACs, Wellesley #9, CMC #13, Pomona #25, Wesleyan #34. Obviously Pomona and Wesleyan get pretty badly dinged in this category. That alone is probably enough to account for the 1 point overall difference between Wellesley and Pomona; Pomona could rectify this by giving their faculty a big raise. Faculty salaries account for 35% of the faculty resources figure, and faculty salaries are double-counted because they’re also a big part of “financial resources” (= spending per student). [MEMO to colleges trying to move up in the US News rankings: Raise faculty salaries!] </p>

<p>Financial resources is based on spending per student. Financial resources rank: Wellesley #5, Pomona #6, Bowdoin #10, CMC #14, Wesleyan #24. Bottom line, Wellesley’s just richer than these other schools, or at any rate spends more per student (though Pomona’s very close and Bowdoin is within striking distance). That counts for a lot if you’re US News. </p>

<p>Are these the right factors to count? Does US News assign the right relative weights to each of these categories? It’s all disputable. Which makes such small differences in the rankings really rather meaningless.</p>



<p>This is not true, at least in the figures US News uses. They show Wellesley with a s/f ratio of 8:1, slightly behind Pomona at 7:1 but ahead of Bowdoin, Wesleyan, and CMC at 9:1. Not that it matters much in the US News ranking: s/f ratio accounts for 5% of “faculty resources” which in turn is 20% of the total, so s/f ratio = 1% of the total. But it’s a small part of what gives Wellesley an edge in the faculty resources category.</p>

<p>Just to amplify how silly these rankings are: I mentioned that faculty salaries make up 35% of “faculty resources,” which in turn represents 20% of the total US News ranking. So faculty salaries = 7% of the total (.20 X .35 = .07).</p>

<p>Here are the latest AAUP figures on average faculty salaries at the 5 institutions mentioned by the OP:</p>

Professor: $146.1 K
Associate Prof: $99.1 K
Assistant Prof: $77.9 K</p>

Professor: $145.2 K
Associate Prof: $107.1 K
Assistant Prof: $74.6 K</p>

Professor: $135.1 K
Associate Prof: $94.5 K
Assistant Prof: $74.5 K</p>

Professor: $130.2 K
Associate Prof: #85.2 K
Assistant Prof $71.2 K</p>

Professor: $127.6 K
Associate Prof: $89.6 K
Assistant Prof: $70.6 K</p>

<p>Now some of us might think Wesleyan could be doing a particularly good job of holding down the costs of higher education if it can recruit and retain top faculty while at the top end paying $16K less per faculty member than a school like Wellesley. Similarly, Pomona seems to do wondrous things while paying its senior faculty on average $10K less than neighboring CMC just across the street. But for Wellesley, higher faculty salaries translate into a higher US News ranking, because at #9 in faculty resources it completely dominates schools like Pomona (#25) and Wesleyan (#34).</p>

<p>Obviously, more goes into it than average faculty salaries. Notice that an assistant professor costs about half as much as a full professor. Consequently, schools with a high ratio of full professors (= older faculty) to junior faculty will do well in the US News rankings. If a Pomona has, say, a younger (and therefore less handsomely compensated) faculty, it will take a beating in the US News ratings, even if its s/f ratio and class sizes are similar, and even if the overall quality of teaching is just as high.</p>

<p>Silliness, IMO.</p>

<p>Boston cost of living versus Brunswick Maine. Probably makes up that 16K.</p>

<p>An overlooked advantage to the USN&WR rankings is that you can disaggregate the information any way you’d like.
If you want to chose a college where your peers are the strongest students, the OPs criteria are ones you might be interested in.
If you believe in the PA, the list might look a little different.
No reason to accept USN&WR’s overall rating as is- and lots of reasons not to.</p>



<p>The difference between Bowdoin and Wellesley is actually $19,500 for a full professor, but you’re right, the cost of living is much higher in Boston. According to Sperling’s cost-of-living calculator, you’d need to make $198,271 in Boston to have the same standard of living you could have for $127,600 in Brunswick, ME. Most people, including most academics, don’t look at it that way, though. Most academics I know would consider it a psychic bonus to live in Boston. And I suspect very few would trade a place on Wellesley’s faculty and the ability to live in Boston for a salary that is nominally almost $20K less in Brunswick, even if living in Brunswick at the lower salary left more disposable cash after taxes and necessities. Nothing to spend it on, for one thing.</p>

<p>Same reason graduates of top law schools will take that $160,000 starting salary job in Manhattan over the $75,000 job in Buffalo every time, even though the cost-of-living calculator says you can buy as much with $75,000 in Buffalo as you can with $160K in NYC. The natural response is, “Yeah, but it’s Buffalo; you just can’t GET in Buffalo what you can get in New York City, at any price.”</p>

<p>In any event, US News does adjust for cost-of-living differences in weighting faculty salaries. No doubt that’s one reason that despite nominally lower salaries, Bowdoin comes out ahead of Wellesley in the “faculty resources” category: Bowdoin is #7, Wellesley is #9.</p>