Petition circulates as College drops in U.S. News rankings

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Alumni voice their concerns about the College's decline in national rankings in a petition sent to members of the Board of Visitors.

U.S. News & World Report released their 2019 undergraduate institution rankings Monday, Sept. 10. The College of William and Mary dropped in national rankings, something that College administrators have attributed to a change in methodology. Some alumni, displeased with this explanation, have started a petition through Change.org, asking that the Board of Visitors stop “devaluing diplomas.”

In 2018, the College was ranked 32nd among all national public universities. In 2019, the College was ranked 38th. Out of 2018’s top-50 universities, seven saw drops of five or more places in the 2019 rankings.

According to Provost Michael Halleran, the shift in rankings can be attributed to a change in U.S. News’ methodology. Halleran said that U.S. News de-emphasized graduation and retention rates and emphasized newer categories like the number of Pell Grant recipients.

“The rules changed this year, and we are seeing the impact,” Halleran said in a press statement. “It is satisfying that W&M continues to be recognized among the best for undergraduate teaching. Overall, we remain among the top institutions. We also realize that no one ranking can fully capture all that the university has to offer. That said, we know rankings matter to people who matter to us, and we want them to capture the quality of our education. The reality is that a move up or down won’t change the fact that William & Mary offers one of the very best academic experiences in the country.”

“The rules changed this year, and we are seeing the impact,” Halleran said in a press statement. “It is satisfying that W&M continues to be recognized among the best for undergraduate teaching. Overall, we remain among the top institutions. We also realize that no one ranking can fully capture all that the university has to offer. That said, we know rankings matter to people who matter to us, and we want them to capture the quality of our education. The reality is that a move up or down won’t change the fact that William & Mary offers one of the very best academic experiences in the country.”

The number of Pell Grant recipients contributes to the social mobility metric — one of the additions to U.S. News’ methodology. According to Halleran, this is the most significant factor that caused changes to the College’s rankings.

Sixteen percent of in-state students in the class of 2021 are Pell Grant recipients, but among out-of-state students, these numbers are lower. For the class of 2022, five percent of out-of-state students receive Pell Grants.

“William & Mary is not able, at this time, to meet the full financial need for out-of-state students,” Halleran said in a press statement. “This is a real concern and one of the reasons our For the Bold campaign’s top priority is scholarship support for both in-state and out-of-state students. Ultimately, increasing further the socioeconomic diversity of William & Mary will require stronger financial aid resources that enable us to provide financial aid packages for out-of-state students more comparable to what we can currently arrange for in-state students. While we must realize this will take time — this Is not something that changes overnight — it is something we are committed to doing.”

The magazine’s methodology looks at six objective categories: outcomes — which includes social mobility, graduation and retention rates and graduation rate performance — faculty resources, student excellence and alumni giving. Outcome compromises 35 percent of the ranking. Faculty resources includes class size, faculty salary and other faculty ratios and is 20 percent of the ranking. Financial resources are 10 percent, student excellence is 10 percent and alumni giving is five percent of the ranking.

The one subjective category is the expert opinion category which is 20 percent of the ranking and includes peer and counselor assessments.

According to a U.S. News’ press release, the outcomes category is given the most weight because the organization believes degree completion is necessary to receive the benefits of an undergraduate education.

“More than one-third of a school’s rank comes from its success at retaining and graduating students within 150 percent of normal time (six years),” U.S. News’ said in a press release. “It receives the highest weight in our rankings because degree completion is necessary to receive the full benefits of undergraduate study from employers and graduate schools. We approach outcomes from angles of social mobility (5 percent), graduation and retention (22 percent), and graduation rate performance (8 percent).”

“More than one-third of a school’s rank comes from its success at retaining and graduating students within 150 percent of normal time (six years),” U.S. News’ said in a press release. “It receives the highest weight in our rankings because degree completion is necessary to receive the full benefits of undergraduate study from employers and graduate schools. We approach outcomes from angles of social mobility (5 percent), graduation and retention (22 percent), and graduation rate performance (8 percent).”

The Change.org petition, which now has been signed by 37 individuals, is addressed to the Board of Visitors. The petition claims that the U.S. News’ rankings are the “gold standard” of rankings and should be taken seriously. It also claims that student applications will drop in coming years.

It then lists 13 ways that the Board of Visitors has “failed” in the eyes of the petition’s drafters.

In one of these grievances, petitioners claim that the requirements of the new COLL curriculum are weaker than the General Educational Requirements program. The alliances category claims that the College should not have merged with the Eastern Virginia Medical School and instead have formed its own STEM graduate program.

Lance Kyle ’87, a supporter of the petition, said he is upset by the drop in rank because he believes it devalues the degree that he earned from the College.

“It should be self-evident why these rating declines across the board are distressing,” Kyle said in an email. “This may be a reporting situation where presenting just the information is called for, not opinions on both sides of the issue. … I’m sure most alumni and students aren’t happy about this rankings collapse. It makes it tougher for students to gain admission to graduate school and to get jobs in certain industries.”