By CARMEN BORCA-CARRILLO and RUBY GARA
“I am writing to report that it has been a mixed week for Fordham in the rankings,” began a Sept. 10 email from University President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. addressed to the Fordham community. The same day the annual rankings made by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) and The U.S. News & World Report (USN&WR) came out to the public, McShane wrote to faculty, students and staff to explain the lists’ results: while the university rose nine ranks on WSJ/THE, it fell an equal number of spots on USN&WR.
The USN&WR is widely used as a yardstick by prospective freshmen and high school guidance counselors across the nation. It curates specialized lists ranking colleges and universities based on 16 academic factors grouped into broader categories. In descending order of point value, these categories include graduation and retention, faculty resources, expert opinion, financial resources, student excellence and alumni giving.
The “National Universities” rankings, USN&WR’s largest list, judges 312 colleges across the country: here, Fordham fell from 61 in 2018 to 70 in 2019. Across all private institutions, however, McShane reported that the university landed at number 49.
McShane pointed to changes in ranking methodology which were “not communicated to [Fordham] or to any other school” as part of the problem. Indeed, for its 2019 rankings, USN&WR modified its formula to deemphasize admission rates and focus more intently on low-income students. For Fordham, a university actively working to raise its student body selectivity, these changes meant its areas of strength were given less value than in years past.
The most significant changes to the USN&WR system include a new category primarily concerned with Pell Grant graduation rates and Pell Grant Graduation rates compared with all other students. The USN&WR calls these criteria “social mobility factors,” and the category counts for five total points, or five percent, within the 100-point ranking system. Additionally, factors for “student excellence”— including average test scores and student body selectivity — were slightly lowered in importance by two and a half points.
Fordham specifically reported a decline in the categories of Financial Resources and Graduation and Retention, which together account for 45 points, nearly half of the USN&WR ranking formula. In his email, McShane wrote that both categories remained “areas of focus” for the university.
McShane underscored the USN&WR rankings with the caveat that the lists “correlate very closely” with endowment sizes, a correlation he has often pointed out when explaining Fordham’s position in relation to other colleges. He stated that Fordham’s endowment is less than five percent than that of the average Ivy League, “which is why one sees the Ivies dominating the top of the rankings year after year.”
However, McShane also wrote that the new formula deemphasized selectivity, a factor which was partly responsible for a rise for public institutions.
Fordham received a more positive ranking on the WSJ/THE list, rising from 212 to 203 out of 968, placing Fordham in the top 20 percent of ranked institutions. McShane wrote this movement “reflects the value of a Fordham education.”
Tess Gutenbrunner, FCLC ’21, stated she was “proud of how Fordham ranked.”
“However, these rankings mean nothing relative to how the students and professors see Fordham as an institution,” Gutenbrunner said. “Our external image is generally good; now we need to focus on the specific needs, concerns and rankings of those actually at Fordham.”
Fordham also saw a positive uptick on other USN&WR lists, including undergraduate business, veteran programs, integrated teaching and Best Undergraduate Teaching.
Resham Sansi, Gabelli School of Business (GSB) at Lincoln Center ’21, said she was “concerned” this year’s lower ranking would affect her recruitment after her graduation. However, she said she has “personally met so many Fordham alumni that have been helpful and welcoming, and now have amazing careers.”
The university also gained renown for its Theatre program, landing at number one on OnStage’s Top 25 B.A. Theatre Programs log for 2018-2019.
Carrie Kinui, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’21, has performed on stage and worked backstage in multiple theatre productions. She saw the rating as “accurate” because “all of [the] acting, voice and movement professors are incredibly qualified with many credentials and are dedicated to what they do.”
Reflecting on the ranking, Kinui also stated that she believes the Theatre program’s renown might “help with recruitment and recognition, because most casting directors and agencies are well aware of the prestigious program that Fordham has.”
Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special adviser to the president, told The Observer that the university paid attention to the rankings in relation to its students’ needs: “Overall, Fordham’s philosophy regarding the rankings is to pay the greatest attention to categories that most affect students’ academic achievement and the student experience.”