Sarah Lawrence College, dropped from a U.S. News and World Report ranking several years ago because of an admissions policy shift, is happy to be back. This says something about how college leaders view the rankings they love to hate.
The private school in Bronxville, N.Y., landed at No. 59 among national liberal arts colleges in the 2014-15 list U.S. News published Tuesday. The year before it was unranked, as it had been for several previous years.
What happened? In 2005 Sarah Lawrence decided to stop using SAT and ACT scores in admission decisions. It wasn’t just moving to a test-optional policy: It would ignore the tests.
That was a somewhat unusual position, prompting discussion with U.S. News over how the magazine would fill in the resulting admission-test blank for Sarah Lawrence in its ranking formula. The back-and-forth yielded options that satisfied neither the school’s desires nor the ranker’s. So the school became unranked.
That meant a high school student who perused U.S. News rankings while deliberating where to apply to college might miss Sarah Lawrence, which was sequestered in an unranked category on the U.S. News Web site.
“You really had to hunt for it,” said Thomas Blum, the college’s vice president for administration.
Even those who did find the college through U.S. News might not have known how to compare it to others that were ranked.
Then Sarah Lawrence switched a couple of years ago to a test-optional policy. That meant it would have test-score data to submit to U.S. News. Result: Sarah Lawrence could be ranked again. A college leader said Sarah Lawrence was pleased.
“Frankly it is good to be back in the rankings,” Blum said. For better or worse, he said, the U.S. News lists are “primary source material” for many students and parents. “Realizing [the rankings] are flawed, they do recognize we are a national liberal arts college. It does not hurt to have that kind of recognition.”
The opposite story is apparently unfolding with two well-known liberal arts colleges: Ursinus and Hampshire. They were both dropped from this year’s national liberal arts list because of how they answered a question on the use of test scores in admissions.
Ursinus, in Collegeville, Pa., was 82nd in the 2013-14 listing. The school has touted its U.S. News rank on a promotional Web page.
On Tuesday, Ursinus said that it is a test-optional school and that it considers SAT and ACT scores if applicants submit them. “Unfortunately, a misunderstanding with U.S. News’ survey has left us unranked on this year’s list—though other data and survey answers led to Ursinus being recognized as the #6 ‘Up and Coming’ national liberal arts school in the same magazine issue,” Tom Yencho, the college’s chief communications officer, said in a statement.
Hampshire’s dean of admissions, Meredith Twombly, said the college was well aware that moving to a test-ignore policy would knock it off the U.S. News list, where it had been 110th in 2013-14. She said the college in Amherst, Mass., disagreed with the magazine but would not fight it. The rankings, she said “are not that important to us.”
For a look at U.S. News ranking trends for individual schools over several years, see this Washington Post table.