University Officials Identify the Ranking’s Limitations
Wilkes University is once again included on the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of American colleges and universities. Wilkes ranked 78 on the list of best regional universities in the north, up seven spots from last year’s ranking. Though pleased to be included, Wilkes officials continue to cite limitations in the rankings value.
U.S. News & World Report considers several factors in its ranking calculations, including acceptance rates, academic quality profile, retention and graduation rates, financial resources, and peer perception. However, the ranking does not adequately take into account the profile of the students that each institution chooses to serve, which tends to adversely affect institutions with access-based missions.
Since its founding, Wilkes has always welcomed male and female students from all socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. For example, Wilkes University’s fall 2017 freshman class includes:
- 51 percent first-generation students, who will be the first in their families to earn a four-year college degree;
- 35 percent Federal PELL grant and 49 percent Pennsylvania state grant eligible students, which are aid programs for the highest financial need students;
- 15 percent for whom a family contribution of zero dollars is expected, which is the Federal government’s calculation of an individual family’s ability to pay; and
- 57 percent male students, which bucks a national trend and is relevant since male students retain and graduate at lower rates than female students.
Of the 187 institutions in Wilkes’ U.S. News category, only one other institution can claim this mix of access measures, according to the national reporting system (IPEDS).
Since there is a correlation between these access measures and college preparedness, Wilkes reports lower incoming SAT scores, lower first-year retention rates, and lower six-year graduation rates, among other factors, all of which can weaken performance on the U.S. News and World Report ranking. In recent years Wilkes has expanded initiatives, including the WikesEdge program and the First Generation Fund, to make a first-class, private education more accessible to all students.
“Wilkes is proud to educate students from all socioeconomic backgrounds because we believe that talent is everywhere, and it is our duty as educators to help students find, develop, and unleash it. We will do everything we can to continue to improve outcome measures. But we’ll continue this effort not because rankings demand it, but because our students deserve it,” said University president, Dr. Patrick F. Leahy.
Growth at the university may change the category where Wilkes falls in future years. In the most recent academic year, Wilkes conferred 1,521 degrees, including 583 bachelor’s, 816 master’s, and 122 doctoral degrees. That places Wilkes in the top 11 percent of all private, not-for-profit colleges and universities nationwide in total degrees conferred.
“According to our research over the past few years, only five private institutions in Pennsylvania conferred at least as many bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees as Wilkes. They include Penn, Drexel, Carnegie Mellon, Villanova, and Duquesne,” Leahy said.
Wilkes recently enrolled its second-largest first-year class in university history and now serves a total of 5,653 students across all degree levels.