BYU’s second-place ranking right on, Jenkins says



    The U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges survey, which came out in August and ranked BYU in the second tier, provides an accurate academic picture of BYU, said Carrie Jenkins, director of BYU media communications.

    “The survey has to be put into perspective,” Jenkins said. “There’s no way to make these 100 percent fair for every university. We just want the survey to honestly reflect what is happening at BYU.”

    Jenkins said it does.

    BYU has never been ranked higher.

    The 1998 survey listed BYU in the second tier — a move up from last year’s third-tier placement. Improvements in the areas of academic reputation and student retention, to mention a few, added to the university’s high marks, but several weighted categories continue to keep BYU at a disadvantage, Jenkins said.

    One such category is that of student acceptance rate. While the nation’s best — Harvard, Princeton and Yale — all kept its acceptance rate at a mere 13-18 percent, BYU accepts 71 percents of all applicants.

    Granted, this percentage reflects the discouragement students often feel when applying to BYU. In a February article in the Daily Universe, Paul Brinkman, the director of planning and policy at the University, as part of a panel survey, explained that only students with exceptionally high GPA averages and ACT test scores are applying. Thus, it appears BYU accepts everyone, when compared to the low percentages of top national schools.

    “That’s a tricky one for BYU,” Jenkins said. “We’d like to admit as many as possible to BYU, and I don’t think any of us want to fall to where our acceptance rate is 13 percent.”

    The same February article reported that some questions in the survey are just impossible to answer. Brinkman said that an exact count of faculty is one such example. Depending upon how the numbers are interpreted, faculty can range from 800-3,000 at any university.

    In the past, the retention rate category has been an obstacle, as well. In measuring the retention rate, the survey required universities to report how many freshmen enrolled for the following year.

    According to a news release earlier this semester, Bruce Higley, director of Institutional Analysis and Data Administration at BYU, said that 95 percent of all male students at BYU leave at some point to serve LDS missions.

    Obviously, these statistics greatly lowered BYU’s standings. In fact, the category has been “very troubling for BYU,” Jenkins said.

    The situation was explained, however, and the survey now asks universities to report the percentage of students who return for their second year, rather than the following. This way, the question benefits all universities and allows for any leave of absences with expected returns, Jenkins said.

    Because of this simple change, BYU’s graduation rate, which is based on a six-year period, also improved in the survey.

    “These categories were a concern, ” Jenkins said. “We didn’t want to manipulate the figures, we just wanted an accurate reflection.”

    But for many colleges and universities, manipulation is a concern. In an October U.S. News and World Report article entitled, “Are colleges taking the low road?,” author Avery Comarow suggested that because the methodology of U.S. News is no secret, schools manipulate numbers to inflate their rankings in the survey.

    Rumors suggested that perhaps schools abandoned their principles by accepting “subpar” students in January, thus obtaining a higher ranking due to the fact that the survey is conducted in the fall.

    According to the U.S. News article, “Unquestionably, college administrators are pressured by board members and alums to do something, anything, to move up in the rankings. Most resist.”

    In fact, many schools are using the rankings as a “yardstick” to identify problem areas and set goals for improvements. Administrators at Texas A&M have used the rankings to help make its institution one of the nation’s best in 20 years. They’ve developed a project called Vision 2020, which focuses on categories such as class size, U.S. News reported.

    BYU, however, doesn’t place so much emphasis on the survey. While it recognizes the survey, BYU bases its strategy for improvement on internal measurements, Jenkins said.

    “We have our own internal goals,” Jenkins said. “What we want is the survey to reflect what is really happening at BYU and what we are improving.”

    Jenkins said BYU is aware of many of its challenges, and a survey has never pointed out something that the university wasn’t already making plans to improve. She listed class size as one example.

    Americans are obsessed with rankings, reported an article in an October 1995 edition of Michigan Today. The article said the actual influence of the rankings on college-bound seniors was minimal in comparison to the influence of counseling and college literature.

    Nevertheless, some students do use the rankings in deciding where to attend college, especially graduate school.

    “I did look at rankings of different universities when I was looking at grad schools,” said Jennifer Lawrence, 25, a graduate student in the ESL program. “I knew that BYU was well respected.”

    And apparently, other schools knew it, too. Lawrence said she remembered the questioning looks as she interviewed with other universities after having graduated from BYU.

    The second-tier ranking is something of which BYU is proud, Jenkins said.

    “I think students that come to BYU are going to come despite what the U.S. News rankings say,” she said. “But we’re always pleased — and I think students are, too — when we can improve in these rankings.”

    Many students agree. Kristy Myers, 21, a junior from Philadelphia, Penn., majoring in horticulture, said she didn’t really use the rankings when she decided to come to BYU.

    “But now, I think BYU’s rankings are very impressive,” she said.

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