As summer rolls into autumn, and the leaves begin to change, so do the college rankings. Every year during college ranking season students and institutions alike eagerly await their university’s fate, whether to their delight, dismay, or ambivalence. Every media outlet that ranks colleges has its own personalized ranking system cooked up by its editors in order to tailor the list in any way that they see fit.

Popular media groups such as Forbes and U.S. News & World Report have become valuable resources for institutions and prospective students alike. World Report’s methodology includes seven different variables to rank universities. These seven areas are: undergraduate academic reputation, 22% of final ranking; graduation and freshman retention rates, 20%; faculty resources, 20%; student selectivity, 15% financial resources, 10%; graduation rate performance, 7.5%; and alumni giving, 5%.

Forbes’ methodology looks slightly different. According to Forbes, who partners with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Participation (CCAP), Forbes is more interested in a college’s ‘output’ versus ‘input’. Simply put, they are interested in what students get out of college rather than what gets them into college. Forbes bases its rankings on the following factors: student satisfaction, 22.5%; post-graduate success, 37.5%; student debt, 17.5%; graduation rate, 11.25%; and nationally competitive awards 11.25%.

But what does this tell me? Like apples and oranges, both Forbes and World Report compare a heterogeneous group of colleges and universities, with very different and diverse student bodies, on a singular playing field. Therefore, small liberal arts colleges don’t stand a chance in the rankings against large state and Ivy League schools.

However, all is not lost. In World Report’s “2013 Top 10 Colleges Where Most Alumni Give Back”, ten colleges were ranked based on percentage of alumni who donated to their prospective schools between the time frames of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 fiscal years. The report is based off of a 2013 study of 1,800 college and universities’ undergraduate programs nationwide. The data, as the media outlet reports, is the same data collected for its annual college rankings but used on a smaller scale. The list includes colleges and universities such as Princeton, Williams, Middlebury, Bowdoin, and Bates. Claiming the ninth position on the list, Bates boasts an impressive 51.9% of alumni giving back. This is comparable to Middlebury, 6th, with 53.7% and Bowdoin, 7th, with 52.3% of alumni participation. While Middlebury, and Bowdoin are tied for fourth in the overall rankings for national liberal arts colleges, Bates sits in the 22nd position. As U.S News reports, the ranking comes at a time when donors have tightened their belts, and alumni support nationwide has been on the decline. Yet, as they clearly convey, and as the ranking shows, several liberal arts colleges including Bates have “bucked” this trend, and instead alumni participation is growing. How’s that for ‘output’, Forbes?

So, how does this affect me?

Alumni participation and donations are integral to the vitality and diversity of Bates. In the 2012 fiscal year alone, at least 44 % of students received need-based financial aid, while the average college-based admission grant was $34,823. The Bates Fund is hugely important in raising the money for financial aid packages. In addition, it helps to keep Bates classrooms the small and involved learning experiences that they are, by supporting a 200+ faculty members who are the top in their field and maintaining our 10:1 student to faculty ratio. This money also helps support library services and the necessary technologies, resources, and staffing that allows Ladd Library to support every student in their own unique way. Believe me when I say that they library has endless resources – as a senior writing an obscure thesis, the library has provided me with the sources I need, whether the books I need are at Colby or in Germany.

The Career Development Center and its counseling opportunities offered to students are also supported by the Bates Fund. The Bates Fund is a big deal! While many schools in the NESCAC have deeper pockets, Bates is able to maintain its status as a competitive institution through careful planning and spending. Indeed, participation and fundraising are integral to the Bates mission.

While Bates remains at 22nd on the U.S. News & World Report’s overall liberal arts college rankings, which other controversial college ranking lists might contest, it is important to remember that Bates is amongst the most loved by its alumni. Oh, and we also should remember that we beat Colby!


For more information about the Bates Fund or this list, please follow us on Facebook at Bates Advancement Student Programs and on Twitter at @batesfundhelps.