Liberal Arts College Rankings
In the US, a whole industry has arisen focused on the ranking of universities and colleges, with the majority of these rankings focused on bachelor's and master's degree programs. There are two main types of rankings: rankings of institutions and of programs in particular fields.
National and international organizations such as US News & World Report, The Princeton Review, The Washington Monthly, BusinessWeek and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) based in Shanghai, China, regularly publish general rankings designed to identify the "best" graduate and undergraduate institutions, regardless of institution type, according to quality and value. In some cases, however, universities and colleges are also ranked according to their institution type: for example, US News & World Report has a separate ranking category for liberal arts colleges.
The other type of ranking--of programs--looks at and compares the individual programs of various colleges and universities. Given that liberal arts colleges offer a wide range of programs, these are also relevant to your search for liberal arts college rankings. The most commonly ranked programs are business and engineering, and these have rankings in additional publications, such as Forbes, Financial Times and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. But there are many more programs offered at liberal arts colleges for which you can also find rankings in the publications that rank institutions.
Another source of information for liberal arts college program ranking is professional associations: these organizations sometimes publish online reports of student surveys on various schools and programs, which provide still more school or program "rankings." These associations (for example the College Art Association, or CAA) often offer awards and honors for teaching excellence, and looking at who they have honored can also be used to supplement your 'ranking' of schools. As well, schools and programs are often specifically ranked each year by their respective industry-specific journals. Less "official" rankings can also be found in student-based resources like StudentsReview, and you may want to scan journals and websites specifically about liberal arts education in America (such as Collegenews.org) to see which schools are mentioned and what is said about them. This kind of news may not be ranking per se, but the information is yours to use and interpret.
Each of these sources, however, uses its own particular set of criteria for ranking schools and programs. In the case of the controversial Gourman Report (which looks at undergrad programs in all fields), the author specifically refuses to disclose his methodology. How then should all these rankings be interpreted?
First, the ranking reports often come with detailed data to support conclusions, and while data collection may be criticized, the editors of these reports usually make an effort to ensure that statistics are comparable. So the reports can be used by you to compare liberal arts colleges on the basis of the data provided.
Second, the statistics that come from the rankings can also suggest topics that need to be studied in more detail. For instance, if a school has a high acceptance rate, high tuition fees but a low graduation rate, you may want to ask why.
All US college rankings have one other thing in common: they are a list of institutions and schools. Scanning the list might suggest a school that you had not considered or perhaps even heard of. Used this way, the rankings can help expand your list of liberal arts colleges that can then be researched in more detail.
However, you should never judge based on rankings alone. Rankings are important, but there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. Schools that are less prominent may have a program that suits your needs better than any nationally ranked schools. Lesser known regional colleges can also be a good choice if you wish to remain close to home during your studies. Often times, these schools have the strongest relationships with local industries and employers. Once you have accumulated this information, you can create your own liberal arts college rankings.
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