Oversight Costly to College's Ranking

Article excerpt

GENEVA, N.Y. -- Small, private U.S. colleges that rely on tuition for survival ignore at their peril the guidebooks and magazine lists catering to parents and students zealously seeking the perfect school.

So when Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a liberal-arts campus on the leafy slopes above this Finger Lakes town, took a tumble in this month's U.S. News & World Report rankings of America's best colleges, retribution was swift.

Sociology professor Sheila Bennett was ousted as senior vice president of the men's and women's colleges. She had failed to submit fresh data that the magazine uses each year in assessing the academic merits of 1,400-plus schools nationwide.

"I don't believe this was intentional -- it probably was just an administrative oversight," said Professor Jack Harris, the faculty's presiding officer.

The episode brings into focus the enormous competitive pressures universities encounter in luring students and teachers, particularly private institutions with small endowments that need to flesh out their budgets with high tuition fees.

"In the absence of other measures of reputation, these rankings and a series of other guidebooks can have considerable import," Harris said. "The U.S. News survey is one of the most public demonstrations of our quality and reputation, whether you buy into it or not."

A year's stay at Hobart and William Smith costs $25,200, plus $6,800 for room and board. Hobart, a men's college, was founded in 1822, and William Smith was started for women in 1908. Their 1,800 undergraduates share faculty, classrooms and an 180-acre campus but each has its own dean, admissions office and athletic programs and awards its own degrees. …