For those who view rankings as a barometer for a university’s excellence, the past year has yielded mixed results at Georgetown.
On one hand, the university’s record-high application season yielded a record-low acceptance rate of 15.4 percent, admitting a full percentage point less than the average acceptance rate of the past five years.
At the same time, Georgetown’s endowment saw a precipitous drop of 3 percent between the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, limiting the university’s ability to offer competitive financial aid packages to prospective students, invest in projects to improve the student experience and attract talent to campus.
This has only exacerbated the $8.59 billion chasm between Georgetown’s $1.48 billion endowment and the $10.07 billion average of other top 20 universities, excluding the University of California system. This places Georgetown dead last in terms of endowment out of the top 20 universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report’s best colleges. Georgetown is tied for No. 20 overall.
Both these factors — acceptance rate and endowment — are taken into account directly and indirectly when computing university rankings. However, this editorial board cautions against assigning great value to these figures and recommends dispensing with the idea that rankings are a proxy for educational value.
Last September’s national college rankings saw Georgetown tied with Emory University and the University of California, Berkeley. Although viewed by many as an authoritative compendium on university quality, these lists rely on a flawed methodology that fails to capture a school’s true value.
None of the metrics used in the U.S. News & World Report — graduate and retention rates, undergraduate academic reputation, selectivity, faculty resources, financial resources, alumni giving and graduation rate performance — account for student input or surveys to gauge their experience at a university.
Instead, two-thirds of the undergraduate academic reputation score — one of the ranking’s biggest components — comprises peer-assessment survey, which asks administrators from other schools to grade a university based on their perception. Aside from the absurdity of asking a university administrator to surmise the worth of 309 other schools, this reflects that these rankings are largely predicated on outsider evaluations rather than students’ lived experiences.
Even objective factors like acceptance rate, which makes up 10 percent of the student selectivity metric, are misleading when taken out of context. For instance, Georgetown is one of few prominent universities that does not use the Common Application, which means that each of Georgetown’s 21,465 applicants this year were self-selected through a separate application process. This drives down the overall number of applicants to Georgetown and may hike up the acceptance rate, but it bolsters the quality of applications as prospective students must apply more effort than checking a box in the Common Application.
Even Georgetown’s smaller endowment, which manifests in rankings in the financial resources section, neglects to paint a full picture of the Georgetown experience. Although the university does not offer merit aid and cites the lack of financial support as the largest reason accepted students do not enroll, Georgetown has made tremendous strides in expanding financial resources for low-income students, especially through its trailblazing Georgetown Scholarship Program.
Instead of evaluating the national standing of schools based on factors like acceptance rate and endowment, parents, counselors and prospective students should look for other factors neglected by traditional ranking methodologies. No quantitative method could truly capture a university’s culture, but certain metrics can tell you more about a university than average SAT score or acceptance rate.
For instance, geographic diversity can be a telling sign of a school’s national reputation. While many schools have one state represent half their student body, Georgetown goes through seven of its largest feeder states before reaching 50 percent of its student population’s makeup.
Many will look upon Georgetown’s lowered acceptance rate as a sign of our upward trajectory in national rankings or fret over the university’s endowment as a drag on our standing. In reality, neither of these factors fundamentally changes the Georgetown experience nor affects the lives of students on a daily basis. Both those inside and outside the university community must acknowledge that the university’s value lies beyond its rankings.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.