By Tom Kozlowski
It’s no secret the College has undergone many a physical evolution, from building renovations to the long-prophesied construction of Campus Town. But these changes make up an outside view of the school’s transformation. To understand the subtle yet significant advancements inside the College’s academic and economic core, look no further than its positioning on this summer’s various lists of college rankings.
College rankings come out frequently and with varying credibility attached to their publications. In the case of this summer, the College placed highly on a number of “best” lists from major outlets — Money Magazine, Newsweek and Forbes, to name a few — while also earning a seat among the country’s most expensive public colleges. No one list can tell the whole story, though. Seeing where the College truly ranks means comparing the rankings and gauging the initiatives put in place to improve the College’s results over time.
In the case of Money Magazine, the forecast is positive. The College placed 53rd overall on its list of 665 applicable schools and 17th among public institutions. Figuring the net price of a degree at the College at $127,531 and an average annual salary within five years at $48,400, the numbers suggest a school a burgeoning value.
The authenticity of Money’s list lies in its methodology. The publication consulted national researchers in order to build a statistical framework for ranking colleges. Its factors: Quality of education, affordability and career outcomes, all of which break down into weighted tiers for grading. The result makes for the “most accurate” measure available, according to Money.
“I think the Money ranking is a good one to consider … (it) illustrates that the college is delivering a high-quality education while keeping the education attainable,” said David Muha, vice president for communications, marketing and brand management at the College. “This is reflected in the college’s priorities when it develops its annual spending plan. The top priority continues to be institutional commitment to academic and student affairs (as opposed to administrative overhead) and support for student success, including financial aid.”
Other lists were equally flattering. Forbes ranked the College 168th in the nation in its list of top colleges, focusing primarily on “output” — how much graduates earn after college — and “return on investment,” according to the magazine. Only Princeton University scored higher than the College among state schools.
If net value weren’t sufficient, the College’s freshmen received a bump, too. Statistics offered by the Department of Education ranked the College’s freshman retention rate at 17th in the nation, estimated at a comparatively high 93.4 percent, according to CBS.
Still, not every list offered such praiseworthy accolades. At the Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center, the College was listed as the 9th most expensive public college in the nation, with an annual tuition of $14,378. The ranking looked at in-state tuition and fees during the 2012-2013 school year but rejected including figures for room, board and other driving costs.
The ranking remains controversial among education officials. While U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes such lists “help families (to) make informed decisions on the single most important investment students can make in their own futures,” others find its methodology too narrow for single consideration.
“The ranking doesn’t tell the whole story because the true cost to students isn’t what you’re paying year-to-year — it’s what you pay to earn your degree,” Muha said. “TCNJ has the fifth highest four-year completion rate among all public institutions. We do very well at helping students graduate in four years, which helps them save money in the long run and gets them started in their careers more quickly.”
If there’s one list to ultimately put the College’s ducks in a row, however, it’s that of U.S. News and World Report. For another consecutive year, the College has been ranked the number one public and number five overall school in their Best Regional Universities category for the northern region for the country. Maintaining this position since 1993, President R. Barbara Gitenstein lauded “the exceptional students and … world-class faculty consistently (setting) high standards and (fostering) innovation.”
The widespread publicity awarded to the College this summer reflects the institution’s push for higher recognition in its academic and economic value. Regardless of how the school attempts to position itself in the coming years, its current status as a leading contender in national education has made itself clear and well-known.