March 4, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 12

BC a Popular Choice Among US High School Students

A national study of prospective college students' views on college quality ranks Boston College as among the most "underrated" universities in the United States.

Project Connect, an annual collegiate research program founded by Westford, Mass.-based Carnegie Communications, questioned nearly 4,000 college-bound high school students last year on various factors they use to evaluate quality in a college or university. Using an online survey, a randomly selected national sample of respondents discussed the institutional attributes they most value, the national and regional institutions they perceive to be the highest in quality, and their own individual application plans. See related chart.

The Carnegie analysis contrasts students' views on quality in higher education with criteria commonly used in college rankings by national publications, specifically US News & World Report, whose annual survey is generally regarded as the most popular and influential. Students were asked to offer their own assessments of US News ranking criteria and to rate the top 50 American colleges and universities as listed by US News in their 2003 survey.

The students' ranking of BC among national universities was 23 points higher than its 40th-place finish in the most recent US News survey. Only Pennsylvania State University and Pepperdine University, with differences of 33 and 24 points, respectively, were more "underrated" among those national institutions ranked by US News.

Boston College administrators said the study's significance is not so much the specific number ranking, nor any implicit or explicit criticism of US News and its methodology, but that the research focus is on criteria that best reflect students' and families' priorities for institutions of higher education.

"It's by no means an 'anti-US News' study," said Dean for Enrollment Management Robert Lay, "but it does offer a much needed new perspective. The Carnegie study rankings better match the perceptions of quality held by prospective students and thus correlate better with application volumes and college choices."

Students participating in Project Connect were asked to evaluate the importance of 10 of the characteristics used by US News to rank universities and then identify those they felt most accurately indicated an institution's quality. In several instances, students disagreed with the weight given a factor in the US News study, which relies on assessments by college presidents and other top administrators.

For example, students most frequently reported that the student-to-faculty ratio is the best indicator of an institution's quality, whereas only 1 percent of the US News ranking scores is determined by this factor. Students said they considered as equally important a college's average SAT/ACT scores of enrolling students, its proportion of faculty who are full-time teachers, and its four-year graduation rate. In the US News formula, however, four-year graduation rates account for 16 percent of an institution's composite score, average test scores 7.5 percent and full-time faculty 1 percent.

Lay said the findings in Project Connect "are consistent with what we learned from our 1996 national survey of prospective college students who inquired at BC. We were encouraged then that our academic reputation would be on a steady rise, given the strong position we had already established among top high school students.

"Now, six years later, Boston College appears to have experienced the application increases that follow this upward trajectory in academic reputation, as suggested by these results from Project Connect."

-Sean Smith

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