Grading the College

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August 27, 2010

2:17 AM

College rankings, like campaign promises and sports predictions, are something to take with a grain of salt. So, it is with somewhat mixed feelings that we greet the news that Washington Monthly has ranked the College of William and Mary 10th overall among national universities, placing us two spots lower than last year (but still 13 spots higher than the year before). Merely as numbers, rankings mean very little. However — we think these ratings highlight a few specific areas for which the College deserves to be commended, and also points out some areas in need of significant improvement.

It’s heartening to see the College again recognized for its commitment to community service, as it ranked first of all the schools surveyed in the area of service. This has always been one of the aspects of the college of which we are proudest, and we commend ourselves on creating students who are not only selfless and engaged, but who also often go on to become productive and involved community members after graduation. Of course, news of College students’ commitment to service is far from new, but it’s nice to see that commitment being publicly acknowledged — and it’s nice to see that we are continuing to recruit students of that caliber.

It also pays to take a look at the competition we rivaled, and in many cases beat. Most of the other colleges on the list — including Stanford University and the University of Michigan—are large, research-oriented universities. These rankings remind us that we remain a nationally competitive university, despite some handicaps to our resources and facilities that our nature as a small school necessarily implies.

It is perhaps in light of that fact that we remain glad (despite the mild inconvenience of chain-link fences) to see the long array of building projects in various stages of construction around campus. These are long-term investments in the College’s future, many in the sciences, like the recently completed Integrated Science Center, or in professional and graduate programs, like the Mason School of Business’ Alan B. Miller Hall and the School of Education. Even projects that improve general infrastructure—like the Tribe Square housing and retail area, which broke ground over the summer—constitute a major investment in the College’s future.

These projects are encouraging for two reasons. First, they are sure to increase competitiveness of the College as a whole, and not only in rankings. Yes, it is true that once Miller was completed, the ranking of the undergraduate business school improved. But up-to-date facilities are also essential in attracting both prospective students and potential faculty. Hopefully, these expansions will herald an even brighter future for the College.

However, this trend cannot, and will not, last long. Remaining competitive among these colleges, the vast majority of which are state schools, would require a greater commitment from the state than currently exists, or seems projected in the near future. The state’s decision to cut state funding of the College by 15 percent has yet to see its full impact, and money for such expansive improvements in the College’s infrastructure will soon dry up. Unless the state allows us to remain competitive, our current pace, not to mention rank, may be unsustainable.

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