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Fox Business Coverage of Forbes Rankings

In case you are interested in how rankings are covered by the television media. Note the apparent ignorance about financial aid and how much Williams costs to 50% of its students.


We’re #1 in US News

According to this anonymous post at College Confidential (hat tip: Jeff), Williams is the number 1 ranked liberal arts college in the country.

1. Williams
2. Amherst
3. Swarthmore
4. Middleburry
4. Wellesley
6. Bowdoin
6. Pomona
8. Carleton
8. Davidson
10. Haverford


1) Official results will be out at midnight. In past years, leaked results have proven correct. I will wager that these are as well.

2) It is nice to see Williams at #1. Whatever complaints you may have about the methodology behind the ranking, there is no doubt that being #1 has a non-trivial impact on applications and yield, especially for international students. Williams should continue to, within reason, game the system by, for example, capping class sections at the magic cut-offs that US News uses.

3) The future looks good. Although the competition is tough, our most serious competitor is Amherst and they will face real headwinds given their financial constraints. Their endowment is in more trouble than ours. Their increase in enrollment will hurt the student:faculty ratio. These ranks are based on data from before the financial crash, so the Williams advantage over Amherst will only continue. Don’t be surprised if/when Amherst falls behind Swarthmore in a year or two. I also suspect that Middlebury’s recent (and deserved) rise may be in danger.

Welleseley is, in many ways, a very interesting competitor. But that is a post for another day.

4) It seems like a new feature is an explicit ranking of the quality of undergraduate teaching. Here are the top 10.

1. Pomona
2. Swarthmore
3. Davidson
3. Oberlin
5. Earlham
6. Carleton
6. Haverford
8. Williams
8. Reed
10. College of Wooster

It will be interesting to read about the methodology behind this result. Also, the peer assessments: “Williams is 4.7, Amherst is 4.6, Swarthmore and Wellesley are 4.5, Middleburry and Bowdoin are 4.3, Pomona, Carleton, Davidson and a few others are 4.2. Haverford and Claremont McKenna are 4.0.”

5) As I mention each year, there is a great senior thesis to be written about the rankings, similar to this article on the US News law school rankings. If you write such a thesis, hundreds of people around the country will read it.

UPDATE: It is official!


Williams Ranks #4 in Forbes Rankings (beating Harvard)

In its second annual college ranking list, Forbes Magazine ranked Williams #4, ahead of Harvard (#5), Yale (#9) and Amherst (#8). Here is how the Forbes rankings are calculated, according to an article on the Forbes web site:

To our way of thinking, a good college is one that meets student needs. While some college rankings are based partly on school reputation as evaluated by college administrators and on the amount of money spent, we focus on things which directly concern incoming students: Will my courses be interesting and rewarding? Will I get a good job after I graduate? Is it likely I will graduate in four years? Will I incur a ton of debt getting my degree?

To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP gathered data from a variety of sources. They based 25% of the rankings on 4 million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site Another 25% is based on post-graduate success, equally determined by enrollment-adjusted entries in Who’s Who in America, and by a new metric, the average salaries of graduates reported by An additional 20% is based on the estimated average student debt after four years. One-sixth of the rankings are based on four-year college graduation rates–half of that is the actual graduation rate, the other half the gap between the average rate and a predicted rate based on characteristics of the school. The last component is based on the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.

When I read the readers’ comments about Williams, I was very impressed to see a Princeton grad conceding Williams’ superiority:

Posted by MathTrader | 08/13/09 12:53 PM EDT
One more misconception that I’d like to point out: the “elitist jock school that’s easier to get into than the Ivies.” Read: “New England Safety School.”

The elitism comment is off by about 20 years. Like every other school in the North East, Williams used to be a country club school. Like every other top school, that’s not really even an argument these days. Every well respected school has a very diverse student body (I know Williams takes a higher proportion of Questbridge minority scholars than almost any other participant school), and about 50% of students on full financial aid. Get real.

Yes Williams has a large proportion of student athletes, but there’s a big difference between “football meathead” and “insanely disciplined Division 3 Crew/Track athlete.” From what I can tell, so many Williams kids play sports because their motivated personality, which also led to their academic success, influences their extracurricular discipline.

The best one is admissions. I’ll be honest, I was on the Williams waiting list after getting into H/P/Y regular decision. The acceptance rate is misleading until you consider how self selected the Williams applicant pool must be. No one applies to Williams for the name, they apply because they did their research and want an unmatched undergraduate challenge that’s hidden in the middle of the mountains. In short, they want to be unparalleled thinkers, not Ivy League graduates.

As my name suggests, I’m a trader with an advanced degree in Math. Without fail, a Williams grad has been everywhere I’ve studied or worked. In every case, they’ve been the person of most envy and respect for their knowledge, ability to learn, and drive. When we discussed this ranking yesterday at work, one of the other traders on my algorithmic desk looked up and said “I’m pretty convinced that Williams(/Amherst) is the only school that’s actually worth the respect it gets.” Even having turned it down, I gotta agree (but still..go Pri

Any thoughts?


#4, According to Forbes

Forbes has gotten into the college ranking business, and this year marks their second attempt at the feat. Though I’m personally of the opinion that rankings are foolish, and that a best-match school doesn’t correlate to a ranking, we’re ranked well enough that I’m publishing them anyway. We’re in at #4, behind West Point, Princeton, and CalTech, and 4 spots in front of Amherst. Methodology is here and the other articles can be found here.


Williams tops all Liberal Arts colleges in IR survey

Marc Lynch has highlights from an annual survey of international relations scholars.

Williams College is the best undergraduate liberal arts program. My old school has produced the most IR scholars of any comparable program, I’m proud to say. And it is the only liberal arts college to make the “best place to study IR as an undergraduate” list. James McAllister and friends, take a bow.


Does Amherst Misreport Its SAT Data?

I am probably wrong about this (corrections welcome!), but there seems to be a non-zero chance that Amherst is misreporting its SAT data and that, therefore, Williams should be alone at #1 in the US News rankings. Consider the data for the class of 2011 on what percentages of the class took the SAT and the ACT.

Williams: SAT: 95% and ACT: 18%. Total: 113%.
Amherst: SAT: 76% and ACT: 23%. Total: 99%.

The Williams numbers are not unusual for this year. For the class of 2002, we have SAT: 99% and ACT: 15% for a total of 114%. And that makes sense. The SAT is now truly a national (even international) exam for those high school students thinking of elite schools. Although many/most of those schools will also accept the ACT, it is now common for academically gifted students in the South and Midwest (ACT strongholds) to take the SAT as well. That pattern explains why almost every single member of the Williams class of 2011 took the SAT. (Why many students also take the ACT is a topic for another day.)

Is it really plausible that 111 of the 474 students in the Amherst class of 2011 did not take the SAT? No. (The only plausible explanation that I can think of is that Amherst is now drawing from a signficantly different student population that Williams. Yet that seems highly unlikely and I have never heard of such a tendency. Has anyone?) If (many of) those students did take the SAT, is it plausible that Amherst does not have access to their scores? No. (I think that Amherst requires SAT subject tests and that any student who took such subject tests and reported them to Amherst would have to allow Amherst to see her SAT scores as well.) If Amherst does have access to their SAT scores, then why doesn’t it report those scores in its Common Dataset? And, even more interesting, are the SAT scores for those students particularly low?

Comments welcome. (I especially hope that data-maven HWC will chime in.) Are other elite schools more like Williams or Amherst? (At Swarthmore (pdf), 95% of the members of the class of 2011 took the SAT.) Without looking at the data yet, one hypothesis would be that Amherst reports only ACT scores (and not SAT scores) for its weaker students. That would cause its ACT scores to be lower (relative to its SAT scores) than those for other elite schools. Do we see that?


U.S. News Rankings Are Out: Williams Tied with Amherst

The U.S. News and World Report rankings are out: Williams and Amherst are tied for first, both with scores of 100. Let the debates begin.


Forbes College Rankings

Beating US News to the punch, Forbes released its own college rankings this week. The methodology is pretty questionable (Wabash ahead of Stanford, Bowdoin, Middlebury, MIT etc.?), but anything that places Williams above Amherst has to be on to something … the top five, according to Forbes:

1. Princeton 2. CalTech 3. Harvard 4. Swarthmore 5. Williams


Rank Me

EphBlogs favorite Lord Jeff (after Tony Marx), Mondale Hall, points to a statement about college rankings, which has now appeared on the College’s website.

Statement on College Rankings

I, and the other undersigned presidents, agree that prospective students benefit from having as complete information as possible in making their college choices.

Correct! Information and transparency are good things. Previous commentary here.

At the same time, we are concerned about the inevitable biases in any single ranking formula, about the admissions frenzy, and the way in which rankings can contribute to that frenzy and to a false sense that educational success or fit can be ranked in a single numerical list.

OK. No single formula is best. The more (accurate!) information that colleges provide, the better. But complaining about a “frenzy” is mostly stupid. You might as well complain about the sky being blue. Outside of radical changes, there will always be a frenzy.

[For those who really want to decrease the frenzy, the only plausible way is to stretch out the process even further. Imagine that Williams accepted early, early decision applications from high school juniors in June and notified them of the results by August. This would decrease the frenzy since it would stagger the process. These students would be worried about their application (but not really that worried since they can still apply to other schools in the fall) while many/most of their friends were not. More outside-the-box thinking from your friends at EphBlog!]

Since college and ranking agencies should maintain a degree of distance to ensure objectivity, from now on data we make available to college guides will be made public via our Web sites rather than be distributed exclusively to a single entity.

Excellent! This is great news, both objectively and for EphBlog readers. Imagine all the fun that we can have with this data . . . With luck, other colleges will follow suit.

Doing so is true to our educational mission and will allow interested parties to use this information for their own benefit. If, for example, class size is their focus, they will have that information. If it is the graduation rate, that will be easy to find. We welcome suggestions for other information we might also provide publicly.

Kudos to these presidents! This is exactly the right answer to the idiocy of the Lloyd Thackers of the world.

But will they really welcome (and act on?) suggestions? I hope so. For a start, a key issue will be the level of disaggregation in the data. The more detail, the better. For example, we want to know the size of every class that a college offers, not just summary measures like the percent of classes with more than 50 or fewer than 20 students, as US News reports. We want to know the entire (joint) distribution of SAT scores, not just the 25th and 75th percentiles. We want to know how many students come from which high schools.

There are lots of messy details to figure out in how to organize and standardize this data. Let’s start.

We commit not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.

This seems sort of stupid. Why pick on US News? It also seems to hurt Williams much more than other schools, especially when we are competing for students from different (i.e., poor, non-US) backgrounds.

Finally, we encourage all colleges and universities to participate in an effort to determine how information about our schools might be improved. As for rankings, we recognize that no degree of protest may make them soon disappear, and hope, therefore, that further discussion will help shape them in ways that will press us to move in ever more socially and educationally useful directions.

Morton Owen Schapiro

Count me in!


Anthony Marx, Amherst
Elaine Hansen, Bates
Barry Mills, Bowdoin
Nancy Vickers, Bryn Mawr
Robert Oden, Carleton
William D. Adams, Colby
Rebecca Chopp, Colgate
Russell Osgood, Grinnell
Joan Hinde Stewart, Hamilton
Stephen Emerson, Haverford
Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury
David Oxtoby, Pomona
Alfred Bloom, Swarthmore
James Jones, Trinity
Catharine Hill, Vassar
Kenneth Ruscio, Washington and Lee
Kim Bottomly, Wellesley
Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan

Any Ephs in this list besides Cappy Hill ’75? Which colleges are most notable by their absence? Davidson (#9) and Claremont McKenna (#11) seem to be the highest ranked colleges not on this list. Did they decline to sign or were they not even invited. Also, whose idea was a joint letter? Who did the first draft? Details, please.

Hall writes, “I think this effectively ends Lloyd Thacker’s fifteen minutes.” I hope so!

Also, just think of all the fun that we are going to have asking for data that the colleges ought to publish but won’t want to. Morty and his friends want to make graduation rate data available? Great! Tell me graduation rate data by race or family income. Do poor students graduate at the same rate from Amherst as rich students? If not, isn’t Tony Marx failing them? Just asking!


Leaked U.S News. 2008 Liberal Arts College Rankings

U.S. News rankings come out tomorrow. An anonymous commentator claims that Williams is still #1.

The rankings have supposedly been leaked. Here are the top LACs:

1. Williams
2. Amherst
3. Swarthmore
4. Wellesley
5. Carleton

True? I think so. The list has probably been distributed to other news outlets so that they can get a jump on writing their own stories. Even though the information has been embargoed, many people have access. Can anyone provide a link to some more authoritative version of the leak? Or is this an EphBlog exclusive? If this is a spoof, it is extremely well-done since it included the top 24 names, all of which seem plausible and reasonably ordered. Note that it also included West Point and Annapolis, two schools that grouped with the liberal arts colleges last year. See here for the Carnegie classification which is, I think, used by U.S. News. Note also that the Air Force Academy is not included in the leaked list and is not in the same Carnegie category.

Last year, West Point and the the Naval Academy were unranked. So, anyone who was making the list up would be unlikely to include them.

So, I think that this list is accurate. We are #1. You read it first on EphBlog.

UPDATE: Confirmed! See here for a leak of the entire news release. How quick is Google? Within an hour, EphBlog was the top item for a blog search of “leaked U.S. News rankings“. Good work DeWitt Clinton ’98!


Splitting the Baby on U.S. News

Williams will not join the U.S. News revolt (at least not yet), but it will stop promoting its ranking in admissions materials and news releases.

I don’t think that slight policy change will have any effect whatsoever on Williams’ public perception. Anyone savvy enough about colleges to know about and care about the U.S. News liberal arts rankings wouldn’t rely on Williams itself to promote its perennial high ranking. And I think there are far more effective marketing tools that Williams does, and should continue, to utilize in any event. For instance, the current edition of the prospectus and the current admissions page are oustanding and provide information far more interesting than U.S. News rankings.


Williams Apparently Not That Annoying

In the aftermath of a spasm of Oberlin-induced rage (and who among us hasn’t had one of those?), Manhattan media gossip site Gawker yesterday proposed to identify America’s Most Annoying Liberal Arts College. The good news? Williams didn’t even make the preliminary list, nor was it written into the final ballot today.

No more write-ins please–sorry, Skidmore! — this is our list and we’re sticking to it. To get you started, we turn to the immortal words of commenter LOLCait, who helpfully defined liberal arts colleges for us: “In the form it’s being used here, it’s a four-year liberal leaning, usually in a small town, college with no grad programs, that rich kids go to feel free and take peyote and wander around campus barefoot and shrieking into the night “I’m a real person!” and then graduate and abandon it all for a good job, only to relive it on screened in porches years later when they find an old joint pressed into a copy of the Stranger, so they toke it even though it’s stale and they remember a little bit but then go to bed and wake up just the same as they were the day before.” All right then! To the colleges!

Wesleyan, Bennington and Hampshire all show up, though. Vote early and often!


Stealthy PR

After reading this article in the Washington Post on Tuesday, I was struck by the absence of Williams. It reminded me that despite the U.S. News rankings, even here in DC, I often receive blank stares when I inform people I went to Williams. One can only wonder how many times in a row Williams would have to rank first to receive more publicity.

Read more


We’re Number 14!

We all know there is a certain arbitrariness to the US News and World Report College Rankings. The selection of criteria and the weighting of the criteria are idiosyncratic. Alternative ranking exist. For instance, some clever economists ranked colleges by the head-to-head choices made by high school seniors). Well, the liberal Washington Monthly weighs in with its own rankings emphasizing public service:

From this starting point, we came up with three central criteria: Universities should be engines of social mobility, they should produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth; and they should inculcate and encourage an ethic of service.

The authors are forthcoming with the limitations of the methodology and data (part of their purpose is to encourage universities to release data — something David Kane can fully support). The rankings of universities is radically different from US News and World Report. Here are the top ten universities: 1) MIT; 2) UCLA; 3) UC-Berkeley; 4) Cornell; 5) Stanford; 6) Penn State; 7) Texas A&M; 8) UC-San Diego; 9) U Penn; 10) University of Michigan.

The rankings for liberal arts colleges are not radically different: 1) Wellesley; 2) Wesleyan; 3) Bryn Mawr; 4) Harvey Mudd; 5) Fisk; 6) Amherst; 7) Haverford; 8) Wofford; 9) Colby; 10) Spelman.

Williams comes in at #14.

Williams, which U.S. News ranks as the top liberal arts school in the country, wound up at #14 on our list, one slot below Presbyterian, largely because of its weak service numbers.

One methodological irony is how Washington Monthly measured service. Numbers on teachers and government employees are not readily available. However, ROTC numbers for each college are easy to find. So schools with active ROTC programs are ranked more highly than they might be otherwise. Again, I think David Kane might fully support an expansion of the Williams ROTC program.

This might be the only source of agreement between David and Washington Monthly.


We’re #1

The latest US News college rankings are out. Williams has maintained its #1 position, with Amherst second and Swarthmore third. Previous discussions here and here.

Again, it would make a great senior theses to look at the US News system and how Williams has fared over the years. One of the surprises (to me) is that Williams is only 5th on the “selectivity” rank. Why would that be? Note that Amherst also has higher SAT scores and class ranks. Hmmm.


Williams Ranked 4th by Economists

I reckon the readers of Ephblog would like a market based solution to college rankings rather than US News & World Report’s rankings. Why base ranking on arbitrary criteria when you can examine what consumers actually select?

A group of economists (headlined by Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby, whose work is top notch) decided to test out the idea (in a paper that can be found here). They selected 510 high schools that typically send many students to competitive colleges. Guidance counsellors at these schools then randomly selected students to participate in the study. A host of questions were asked, but the most important issue was which schools were they accepted by and which school did they decide to attend?

The schools were then ranked using an algorithm for ranking chess players developed by a Hungarian mathematician named Elo (Jeff Sagarin uses the algorithm in his USA Today rankings of sports teams). Schools that accepted the same student were compared head to head. The school that was selected by the student was deemed the “winner” and the schools that were turned down by the student were deemed the “losers.” In this way, Hoxby and crew were able to come up with rankings (I loaded up the top 50 Download file).

Williams places 18th overall.
Among liberal arts schools, it placed 4th behind Amherst; Wellesley; and Swarthmore.

Read more


Williams Number One

The 2005 US News rankings are out. As stupid as these rankings are, they are probably the only way many people have ever heard of Williams. I am therefore happy to report that Williams is first for the second year in a row. Amherst and Swarthmore tied for second.


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