Whitman falls in Forbes top colleges rankings

Josh Goodman

Whitman is the 44th best college in the country, according to “Forbes”. That’s down from 16th in 2010 and 36th last year.

“The primary takeaway is that Whitman is among the top 20 liberal arts colleges in America in the list and fourth in the West, and it’s one external validation of what we’re investing in at Whitman,” said Vice President for Development and College Relations John Bogley. “Our job is to deliver a quality education and and the rankings will take care of themselves.”

President George Bridges said he was pleased that Forbes recognizes of the quality of a Whitman education.

“While neither this ranking nor others drive the decisions we make, it is gratifying to learn that a respected publication like Forbes recognizes how capably Whitman prepares students for civic and professional leadership,” he said in a communications publication.

Bogley added in an email that many colleges see their rankings change on a yearly basis.

“Claremont McKenna (which has dropped to 23 from previous rankings of 9th and then 12th) and Haverford (now 27th, down from 14th and then 7th) are still great schools despite their drop in rankings,” he said. “So is Whitman. The rankings are not precise.”

Changes in methodology can explain the variation. In 2010, 17.5 percent of a ranking was based on four-year graduation rate, and Whitman has the highest graduation rate in the Pacific Northwest. This year, graduation rate accounted for 11.25 percent.

The single biggest factor in this year’s rankings was student evaluations on ratemyprofessors.com, a site where most Whitman professors have only a handful of reviews, if any. Forbes included all ratings on the site, including those of former professors and those dating back as early as 2001.

Michael Noer, an editor at Forbes involved in the rankings, said in a tweet that the emphasis on ratemyprofessors.com is because it “is a large, public dataset that is [in] general up-to-date.”

Noer also pointed to the rankings’ methodology report, which says: “research to date cautiously supports the view that RMP is relatively similar to the SET [student evaluations of teaching] used by universities themselves.”

In addition to online professor rankings and graduation rates, Forbes considered academic success, student debt and post-graduate success, a figure that examines alumni salaries and influence. Forbes included 650 colleges in the list, and Whitman ranked above the likes of Cornell University (51st) and Johns Hopkins (67th), as well as fellow liberal arts colleges such as Scripps (54th) and Grinnell (63rd).

At the top of the list? Princeton University, which, interestingly enough, has a residential division named Whitman College.