Education Reaching the summit
Fairfield University is on top, and the view, officials say, is just fine.
The 76-year-old Jesuit University, which has for several years hovered around the number two or three spot among regional colleges in the north on U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings, now has the number one spot all to itself.
“It is a testament to the hard work everyone has been doing,” Mark R Nemec, president of Fairfield University, said in anticipation of the announcement. “We are humbled but it is great to get the recognition.”
U.S. News & World Report on Monday released its 2019 Best Colleges rankings, a report that looks at data from more than 1,800 institutions across the country and in a growing number of categories.
Yale University remains locked into a third-place ranking among Best National Universities, but that spot is getting crowded, shared with Columbia, MIT and University of Chicago. Princeton and Harvard remain number one and two, respectively, on that list. Princeton has owned the top spot for eight consecutive years.
The University of Connecticut, which last year cracked the top 20 on the Top Public Schools with an 18 ranking, slipped back to a tie for 22nd. It also slipped on the national chart from 56 to 63.
“This is unfortunate, but it is not a surprise,” UConn President Susan Herbst said of this year’s change. “It is vital that the state, the university community, and prospective students know that the reasons behind this drop are primarily about our finances, not the quality of the education that UConn offers.”
Herbst lays the blame on UConn’s financial struggles to reduced state support for its operating budget.
UConn continues to win points, though, in areas of student retention and graduation rates, student selectivity, academic reputation, and faculty resources. Financial resources, however, count for 10 percent of the U.S. News & World Report score, and Herbst said consistent cuts in UConn’s state grant aid helped to pull down the university’s overall ranking.
Because the financial measure uses averages of two fiscal years, Herbst said it is likely UConn would be negatively affected again next year, when 2016 and 2017 figures are used.
“That said, our goal is always to climb higher,” Herbst added.
Fairfield’s climb, Nemec said, can be attributed to extensive work to recruit more nationally, gain viability and tell the Fairfield story.
“My role as president is to be the chief storyteller,” said Nemec, who is starting his second year as president.
Nemec said points were also scored for attracting students from a larger region and for increased alumni giving. Fairfield this year greeted its largest incoming class ever, and just completed a successful capital campaign.
Being number one can’t help but keep the momentum going, Nemec added.
“It’s reality — students look at the rankings,” he said.
Focusing on academic excellence, U.S. News’ Best Colleges rankings evaluate schools on hundreds of data points using up to 16 measures of academic quality.
Its methodology was tweaked to put greater emphasis on student outcomes, which now counts for 35 percent.
Less weight is now given to the SAT or ACT scores students come to campus with, and more goes to how many are retained and graduate, said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News.
How well schools support low-income students through graduation is also factored into the equation.
Quinnipiac University in Hamden remains at 13 among the Best Regional Universities in the North. Mark Thompson,provost and executive vice president at Quinnipiac said it is reaffirming to be consistently recognized by U.S. News.
Quinnipiac also ranked fifth among regional universities in the north in U.S. News’ Best Colleges for Veterans.
Jason Burke, director of veteran and military affairs at Quinnipiac, said it is an honor to be ranked in the upper tier of universities that support our country’s “warrior-scholars.”
Reducing the administrative burden is key, so these non-traditional students can focus on coursework and complete their degrees in minimal time, Burke said.
Sacred Heart University in Fairfield rose from 41 to a six way tie for 35th on the Best Regional North list.
“No survey or ranking can fully measure the educational excellence Sacred Heart University delivers day in and day out,” said Deborah Noack, a Sacred Heart spokeswoman. “U.S.News does not measure our incredible growth in programs, facilities and award-winning faculty. That said, we appreciate (them) recognizing Sacred Heart as one of the best universities in the North.”
Sacred Heart was also among the best colleges for veterans, a best value in the North and best undergraduate business program nationally.
The University of Bridgeport made a list of regional universities in the north with a high ethnic diversity among its student body.
Other lists are offered in such categories as Best Value Schools, Most Diverse, Most Innovative and best schools for the “B” student.
For a complete look at the rankings, click here.