Barry Mills on Rankings, Ratings, and an Award that Matters

As Bowdoin prepares to be ranked and rated by magazines and websites, there’s one award we can all be proud of.

We are about to enter the few weeks of the year when all the college rankings are announced. U.S. News, the Princeton Review, Forbes, and more will be ranking colleges and universities in an effort to inform the public and, of course, to sell their publications. As college presidents, we all state publicly that these rankings are not useful and rather silly. But in fact, most colleges and universities understand that the rankings matter to prospective students and their families. And in many cases the rankings are at least as important to alumni who take special pride in Bowdoin’s standing or lament that we aren’t more highly ranked than their neighbor’s alma mater.

For the most part, the rankings are fairly arbitrary and not all that useful to prospective students because there is a “right” college for every student, regardless of whether a college is ranked number 5 or number 20. The college rankings do provide some superficial guidance to students and parents as they go about the college search process, but over reliance on the small differences in the rankings is not a sound strategy for identifying the best school for a student.

I also think college presidents are overly sensitive to the rankings because in some ways they are a grade on the leadership of the school, and everyone knows that people of any age get anxious and defensive when grades are posted—including college presidents.

So we anxiously await our rankings, and I’m sure some you will join the rush to the newsstands over the next few weeks. I certainly have my fingers and toes crossed hoping that we survive another season.

The addition of an elevator was just one of many ADA-compliant features included in the renovations to Adams Hall.

Meanwhile, Bowdoin did receive special (and deserved) recognition this week when Maine Governor John Baldacci presented the College with the 2010 Denis Pratt ADA Award for what the Maine ADA Coalition describes as “substantial contributions to the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and service to the community.” This award recognizes the substantial work and investment by the College in the renovation and construction of properties on our campus to ensure that these buildings are accessible to folks with all kinds of conditions or disabilities.

There are numerous laws and regulations that impose standards on renovation and new construction in order to ensure accessibility. These regulations are well intentioned and important but we have certainly learned from experience that some of the standards and building codes don’t necessarily result in facilities that are truly accessible. The College recognized this reality from the experience of some our students, and took to redesigning our facilities in a way that not only satisfied the laws and regulations, but also resulted in facilities that are, in fact, accessible. This was important work for the College and important in very personal ways to the students, parents, and visitors to our campus who deserve to be respected by us in this very tangible way.

So, in this season of awards and rankings, we can take special pleasure in this recognition by the Maine ADA Coalition and in the special appreciation of those who can now take full advantage of all that Bowdoin has to offer.

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Over the summer, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at mills@bowdoin.edu

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.

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