Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making the grade: Should JSU be concerned about its ranking among colleges?

A crowd of students gathers outside the financial office at Jacksonville State University on Monday. JSU was ranked as a third-tier school by U.S. News and World Report. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

Some of the 9,000 or so students who will return to classes at Jacksonville State University today likely had the campus in their sights long before orientation.

But many college-bound students locally and across the country turn to U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings for comparison and evaluation before choosing.

A growing vocal minority of college officials insists students can find better alternatives to use in planning for their future.

This year's U.S. News and World Report's listing finds JSU lagging many of its peer institutions. JSU did not make the list of the top two tiers, (top 61 including ties) of the best universities in the South that offer mainly master's programs as their highest degree level.

U.S. News ranked JSU as a third-tier Southern master's university. Those ranked between numbers 62 and 88 are only listed alphabetically.

Based on the criteria in the U.S. News guide, JSU likely took a hit in the rankings because of its six-year graduation rate of 36 percent, a larger student-faculty ratio of 20 to 1, and lower average ACT scores than other peer institutions.

JSU President William Meehan said university leaders monitor the rankings each year, but they're not a driving force in their mission.

"We serve different populations than those in the first and second tiers," he said. "We're a public institution that serves the people of Northeast Alabama, and we're sticking to that."

U.S. News uses 15 criteria to rank about 1,400 of the nation's four-year accredited schools. To introduce the rankings, Robert J. Morse and Samuel Flanigan try to put the list in context.

"Clearly, the college experience consists of a host of intangibles that cannot be reduced to mere numbers," they wrote. "But if you combine the information in this book with college visits, interviews and your own intuition, our rankings can be a powerful tool in your quest for college."

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