Whitman’s Princeton Review rankings fall, but are still high

Josh Goodman

Think you know Whitman? The Princeton Review sure does. According to its latest college guide, “The Best 371 Colleges: 2010 Edition,” Whitman has the 9th best professors, 12th best college theater, 19th best college library and 20th best quality of life in the country.

“I believe they verify what those of us who know and love Whitman already know about the college,” Director of Communications Ruth Wardwell said of the rankings.

But the heavy fluxuation between the rankings over the last two years is raising questions about how accurate the rankings, looked at by thousands of prospective students, really are.

“What makes a college not appear, for example, in the Happiest Students list one year, then appear near the top the next? What makes one go from 1st to 4th to 3rd to 15th?” Wardwell asked, highlighting an experience similar to Whitman’s. “[There’s] no way of knowing for sure, since placement on the lists is based on anonymous responses, a non-scientific method and the personal preferences and experiences of a handful of students.”

Director of Institutional Research Neal Christopherson noted another case of unexplained scores, though from a list Whitman wasn’t on.

“Reed College is ranked nine and New York University is ranked 15 on ‘Intercollegiate Sports Unpopular or Nonexistent,'” he said. “Reed College does not have intercollegiate varsity sports, yet there are eight schools ranked ahead of them. On the other hand, New York University won the NCAA Division III national championship in men’s cross country in 2007, yet they are only six places behind Reed.”

Many current students found the previous rankings helpful in choosing Whitman.

“They were quite important, actually,” said sophomore Mollee Huisinga. “I want to be happy, not gonna lie.”

For first-year Carolyn Beckman, the rankings simply confirmed what others told her.

“Rankings did not have much effect besides confirming the glowing reviews that I had heard from former Whitman students or their friends and family,” she said.

For that reason, along with Whitman’s still positive reviews, the Office of Admission doesn’t see the lower scores as a problem.

“I don’t see this negatively impacting our recruitment efforts at all,” said Director of Admission Kevin Dyerly. “The fact that we’re still on 10 of the top 20 lists shows Whitman is still prominent in these lists,” he added, noting that simply being on the list gives a boost to visibility.

Seamus Mullarkey of The Princeton Review agrees.

“To be on the ranking list means that there’s strong consensus of the students,” he said. “Being in the top 20 is a mark of distinction.”

Mullarkey believes the scores, based on online and paper surveys from students, do a good job of representing colleges. “The students are surveyed on an ongoing basis,” he said. “We ask questions on 62 different categories. We’re really trying to give a very broad picture of life at these 371 schools, which are academically excellent.”

Dyerly also said that in addition to Princeton Review rankings, Whitman remains highly ranked on a variety of other lists, such as US News and Best Value Colleges.

“That can certainly help us with recruiting for the Class of 2014,” he said.

Unscientific methods aside, Christopherson agrees that the lists are good for Whitman.

“The important thing is that we’re on a list that makes sense for us, that is an accurate characterization of Whitman, or that we think is flattering and will attract the kinds of applicants we want,” he said.

Interested students can help to form next year’s rankings by taking The Princeton Review’s survey at survey.review.com.