President's Message Regarding Rankings, 9/9/15.


President’s Message Regarding Rankings, 9/9/15

Dear Drew community members,

I write with news about Drew University’s US News and World Report ranking, to be released today, and to share the steps we are actively taking to ensure Drew’s future as an excellent, competitive and highly regarded institution. I know that there are some of you who follow rankings with interest and who have had concerns in recent years about Drew’s place on this particular list.

Because of the time lag in data used for the rankings, our current work at Drew and recent positive changes do not yet impact the rankings. Based on rolling data from the past several years, the University’s ranking fell from 99 last year to 112 this year. Neither of these rankings reflects the University’s historic strength, nor its future potential. As the person responsible for leading this great university, I can assure you that we are singularly focused on a successful future. Our efforts, while not directed at the rankings per se, will have the side effect of improving our position in the rankings in future years.

Why did Drew’s US News ranking drop?

First, it is important to note that in the US News ranking system, Drew remains a Tier 1 (Top Tier) institution. Nevertheless, Drew’s fluctuating pattern of slipping in the rankings over time results from a constellation of factors, including past struggles with enrollment, retention, graduation rates, and alumni participation in giving. We have turned all of these around, but, as I will explain, “the new Drew” is not yet evidenced in these rankings.

The rankings are also a combination of an index score and an institution’s relative place on the list. An index score can change little (as was the case with Drew this year), but a position on the list can change because other institutions have moved or new institutions have been added to the list. Rankings will fluctuate from year to year, no matter their trajectory.

What is the Drew leadership perspective on college rankings overall?

Drew does fare well in several rankings and lists and we share this information widely, especially when recruiting new students. We learned today, for example, that Drew is included as one of only 50 institutions in the Princeton Review’s most recent publication Colleges that Create Futures []. The University is also listed in Forbes, Washington Monthly and the Princeton Review’s Best Colleges.

While it is good for the University to appear on these lists, the reality is that rankings are not always reliable indicators of institutional quality or of a student’s educational experience. They can, however, be one useful data point among many used by families when making decisions about college.

Drew University would be naive to ignore the rankings. All of the institutions on the US News list are good institutions. To not strive to remain in their company would be foolish. So, simply speaking, as Drew University’s president, I pay attention to the rankings.

Timing, rankings “lag” and rankings mobility

A frustrating aspect of most rankings is that they are built upon an institution’s past and not on current data. Therefore, current successes and new initiatives are not reflected in the rankings.

For example, enrollment, first-year retention, graduation rate and alumni giving all contribute to a school’s US News ranking. This year, Drew is experiencing a rebound in enrollment—an increase in new students of 20% over last year (with improved student academic profiles) and sharply increased first-year retention (74% in recent years versus 86% now). Over time and together, enrollment and retention will equal higher graduation rates. We’ve recently renewed our focus on increasing the percentage of alumni who give, and we are very grateful to alumni who have participated.

Again, these positive factors are not yet reflected in our current rankings—it will take several years of improvements in enrollment, first-year retention, graduation rate and alumni giving to have sustained positive impact Drew’s rankings.

Specifically, what are we doing to bring the shine back to Drew?

Since our new leadership team began working together in July of 2014, we have focused our efforts on enrollment, retention, and graduation rates for their own sake—but these will impact rankings as well.

We have increased:

  • New student enrollment (first year and transfer)
  • Academic profile of new students
  • Percentage of new students living on campus
  • Percentage of alumni who give

In addition, we have:

  • Changed the First Year Experience to make it a richer, more connected experience for students
  • Restructured administration for better focus on student needs in areas including dining, housing, public safety, registrar and financial aid, and in general to provide better “customer service”
  • Begun a program in capital improvements to serve current students, and to attract new ones
  • Understood the importance of a president living on campus (for the first time since 1988), allowing me to experience what our students experience on a day-to-day basis
  • Started the planning for a newly renovated Commons Dining Hall (to open in 2017) and a significant upgrade to our dining plan—which has already begun

The real Drew University

Whether we are alumni, students, parents, faculty or staff, each of us knows that Drew can compete with any liberal arts university, including those perennially in the top ten. Indeed, in my first year here, I have become more and more convinced that when it comes to how our faculty mentor students, how we connect the campus to the city and how we provide hundreds of real-world, hands-on learning opportunities—very few schools can really compete with us. My goal, as your president, is to ensure that the reality we know is known to the rest of the world as well.


MaryAnn Baenninger