Movin’ on up

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The U.S. News ‘ World Report college ranking report has been released, and with it comes good news for Fairfield. Up a point from last year’s ranking, Fairfield now ranks third in the Northern Universities Top Schools category, preceded only by Villanova University and Providence College. The U.S. News divides colleges and universities across the nation into several categories, determined principally by school size, geographic location and what Fairfield’s Associate Vice President for Public Relations Doug Whiting calls “mission.” Fairfield’s mission, he says, is to focus primarily on teaching, not research, and to offer a full slate of undergraduate and masters programs. 150 schools of similar “mission” thus compete with Fairfield for the top slots in the Northern Universities category. The top 25 schools in this category are ranked, and the remaining 125 schools are ordered alphabetically and by tier. The ranking system within these categories is multifaceted, incorporating several different aspects of every college and university into the system and weighing them for importance. One of the most important factors in a school’s rank is its “reputation,” which is determined by surveys sent to presidents, provosts and directors of admission from competing universities. Other factors include graduation rate, freshman retention rate, student/faculty ratio, selectivity and alumni giving. In the past 10 years with a similar system, Fairfield has consistently placed in the top five schools in the Northern Universities category. Despite the inclusiveness of the U.S. News college ranking system, the rankings are, according to Whiting, controversial. “Almost every school in the nation is critical [of the rankings] in one way or another,” he says. “U.S. News is probably the best of the rankings, but it is still flawed.” Still, rankings are a factor to consider for prospective students planning to attend any college or university, and U.S. News is the place where many students look first for guideline information about the schools they are considering. Whiting feels that Public Relations and Admissions at Fairfield can take measures to improve the university’s rank, especially with regard to reputation. “The reality of what exists at Fairfield is stronger than its reputation,” he notes. Whiting thus expresses a need for Fairfield Public Relations staff to continue to make the case for Fairfield and expand on measures already taken. Intangibles, like Fairfield’s accredited faculty and student commitment to volunteerism, have not been broadcast significantly. As a result, people like Whiting have visited U.S. News and sent material to colleges and universities receiving the reputation survey, in order to “make the case for Fairfield” and “show people why everyone here believes so strongly in this place.” Because Fairfield, a university not yet 60 years old, is competing with universities with legacies of more than 100 years, recognition of Fairfield as a top school may not be as high as it deserves. Consequently, name recognition is also a focus of the Public Relations department. What does all this mean to the future of Fairfield? Plenty, according to Whiting. “Our goal ultimately is to be ranked the best school in the North,” he says. As Fairfield continues to grow, more people will be convinced of the enormous value it places on education, and the many resources available to students. Determination to make people aware of the greatness of this institution is prevalent. “We are happy that we made the jump from tied for fourth to third,” Whiting says, “but we are not satisfied.”

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