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Monday, May 29, 2023

Middlebury is Seventh in New Ranking

The Alumni Factor, a new college ranking publication, unveiled its first college and university ranking earlier this month, slotting Middlebury College in 7th place. Unlike other ranking lists, the Alumni Factor uses quantifiable financial data gleaned from alumni surveys. By using alternative criteria, the ranking has aimed to arm prospective students and their parents with a new way to evaluate schools during the college search.

The Alumni Factor's list of top schools stands apart from other "Top 10" lists because it features colleges and universities that rarely appear in the upper echelon of more traditional college ranking publications.

Middlebury College, which shares 4th place with Pomona College in the most recent U.S. News National Liberal Arts College Ranking and 42nd in Forbes' list, holds the 7th spot in The Alumni Factor's debut list "just ahead of the United States Naval Academy and behind the University of Notre Dame."

After receiving alumni reviews from former students at over 450 colleges and universities, the Alumni Factor whittled down the results to compile a list of the top 177 Top Colleges and Universities.

While U.S. News and World Report separates liberal arts colleges and universities into two lists, the Alumni Factor groups schools into one all-inclusive ranking. Alternatively, the Princeton Review puts forward no composite ranking, but offers 62 top 20 lists on institution's specific traits, such as quality of life, social scene and region.

Opinions are mixed on the most appropriate methodology for college and university rankings.

"I prefer the approach of Princeton Review and U.S. News in this case where they rank the schools within categories," said Becky Castle '91, who served as the president of the College Alumni Association from 2000-2002.

"I'm not really sure that comparing a small liberal college to a state university with 40,000 students makes a lot of sense."

Chelsea Guster '11, a more recently graduated Middlebury alumna, believes that each ranking methodology fits into its own niche within the college shopping market.

"I think for those who are set on a particular region, size or aesthetic of school, the Princeton Review and U.S. News approach of dividing rankings by traits is very effective," said Guster. "However, for those who may be asking, 'Isn't Pomona just like a NESCAC, but stuck out West?' the Alumni Factor's approach seems to be more useful."

Another point of contention with respect to college ranking platforms is the source of the data. The U.S. News ranking uses surveys completed by administrators at peer institutions and high school counselors at select public and private schools in appraising a college or university. Princeton Review, in contrast, relies heavily on student surveys. As the Alumni Factor's name indicates, alumni surveys form the basis of the new list's rankings.

Unlike Princeton Review and U.S. News, The Alumni Factor operates independently of college and university bureaucracies, surveying alumni without the help of administrative contacts. Alumni respondents are asked to answer 30 different questions concerning their college experience and respond to 20 statements about relevant political and social issues.

Their answers, in combination with their financial information, create the institution's "score" in 15 diverse categories, such as average income of graduate households, preparation for career success and overall happiness of graduates.

"Graduates can offer a valuable perspective on the college experience, because they assuredly had one at that school," said Guster. "However, as each person inevitably evaluates his or her experience differently, it would be slightly more difficult to know what type of information I was receiving from a ranking platform that worked solely from alumni feedback."

By drawing attention to the financial status of college graduates, The Alumni Factor aims to provide a quantifiable perspective on the financial return on a college education. In a time of economic recession, this perspective has proved appealing to some parents and students.

"As much as I value learning for the sake of learning and the liberal arts approach, financial standing of graduates is a real consideration given the cost of higher education and the debt burden that people take on," said Castle.

Current student Elizabeth Fouhey '14 however, takes an alternate stance on the issue.

"It is hard to place judgment on a school based on how much money someone makes after college," said Fouhey. "There are very financially successful people who have gone to low-ranked schools, and there are also people who go to places like Middlebury whose financial situation after college is not as good."

The different reviews weigh certain attributes differently while ranking schools. U.S. News weights its factors according to their view of what is most important in selecting a college; for instance, it devotes 22.5 percent of a college's composite score to academic reputation. Princeton Review in contrast, breaks down each category into its own self-contained list.

The Alumni Factor uses a different methodology still, weighing its 15 attributes equally. However, the new ranking site uniquely offers a special feature aimed at accommodating the personal tastes of its readers. "Match Me To U" gives users the ability to weigh factors that they deem to be the most relevant. The feature's final product is a custom-made list of top colleges and universities.

"The validity of each approach is really subjective depending on the user's interests and priorities," said Castle.