Grinnell in the rankings

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ZANE SILK 

silkniha@grinnell.edu

In the past few weeks, a number of rankings and ratings of the nation’s colleges have been released with varying results for Grinnell College. In the rankings of liberal arts colleges released by the U.S. News and World Report Grinnell (USNWR) held its place at number 19.

Days later, on Sept. 12, the Department of Education released their College Scorecard website, which allows families to compare colleges on a number of metrics. Three in particular are being highlighted: average annual cost after financial aid, median earnings ten years after students enrolled (excluding those who went to graduate school) and the six-year graduation rate of full-time students.

After the ranking’s release, Buzzfeed News ran an article comparing statistics from the College Scorecard for schools that ranked in USNWR’s Top 25 universities and liberal arts colleges. The only mention of Grinnell during the piece was the College’s ranking fifth lowest for median earnings, at $45,600, compared to top ranking the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s $91,600.

On Sept. 16 the New York Times’ online data-driven portal, The Upshot, released its second annual College Access Index, measuring which colleges do the most for low-income students. Between the first and second year of the rankings, Grinnell College fell from second place to thirty first.

“The majority of change from two to our current [rank] is based strictly on methodological changes within the rating system itself,” said Brad Lindberg, director of Student Financial Aid.

“We really haven’t changed the way we’ve done things between when the survey was run last year and … this year,” he added.

The Upshot did change quite a few aspects of their formula. From originally only using the percentage of freshmen receiving Pell Grants in its calculations, The Upshot shifted to relying on the percentage of graduating students receiving the same grants. In addition, the data of students from households making $30,000 to $75,000 annually was used when calculating the net price for middle income students, an increase from the previous ceiling of $48,000.

Randy Stiles, associate vice president for Analytic Support and Institutional Research, explained that there were also other factors which contributed to the decline in Grinnell’s ranking.

“Moving from about 100 schools to 179 schools – there are now a lot of public [schools] that just weren’t there last year,” Stiles said.

The increase in schools was a result of The Upshot including colleges with graduation rates of 75 percent within five years, an increase from the previous limit of four years.

This led to the sudden success of the University of California, with UC colleges grabbing six of the top seven spots, when none had been on last year’s index.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Stiles gave a presentation detailing the different rankings and rating systems his office tracks. Despite the attention focused on the ratings within Stiles office, he claims that the College does not make reforms based on the reviews and rankings.

“We are not driven by rankings. We are not going to change what Grinnell does as a result of being somewhere on somebody’s ranking system,” Stiles said. “If we change a policy it’s not likely because we’re 12, or 14, or whatever on somebody’s list. It’s because we think it’s the right thing to do based on the college’s values.”

It was at the Times’ “Schools for Tomorrow” conference in New York City that David Leonhardt, managing editor for The Upshot, released the College Access Index. “Colleges that have historically been among the least diverse … [such as] Washington University in St. Louis, Yale, Middlebury, have begun taking steps to be more diverse. They’re early steps, they’re certainly not at the same level that … Grinnell [is] at, but they are steps in that direction,” Leonhardt said during his presentation.

Following the presentation, Leonhardt led a panel discussion featuring President Kington and the presidents of other colleges.

“We have a significant endowment; I think our budget for financial aid every year is … $46 million,” Kington said during the panel. “Right now I think we are at 24 percent Pell eligible, but we can’t get much higher than that and still work.”

“If you compare Grinnell to our peer group, while our endowment per student is relatively high, among our other two sources of income, [concerning] the rate of annual giving per student and the amount students pay in tuition, we are very low. The other schools, they have good returns, and donors are giving millions … We’d need a dramatic increase in alumni giving if we were going to increase the percent of students that are Pell eligible,” Kington wrote in an interview with The S&B.

Despite all the money that Grinnell pours into financial aid and academic resources, Kington explained that there is only so much small liberal arts schools like Grinnell can do to help assist low-income students.

“The fact is that the chance that a poor kid of color will go through an education system that prepares that person for one of our colleges is laughingly, just unbelievably small,” Kington said. The Upshot included colleges with graduation rates of 75 percent within five years, an increase from the previous limit of four years. This led to the sudden success of the University of California, with UC colleges grabbing six of the top seven spots, when none had been on last year’s index.