Administrators happy with Best Colleges ranking, question validity of methods used

KNOXVILLE — The website Best Colleges recently released updated lists for the top rated universities of 2017, and Johnson University is listed fourth on their list of Best Colleges in Tennessee.

While JU administrators are always happy for positive publicity, the implications of the placement and the criteria used by the website for selection are vague.

Tommy Smith, Vice President for Academic Affairs, said that lists like these are sometimes not worth noting.

“These rankings are usually done by companies promoting their websites,” he said. “They rank colleges and universities to get traffic to their site; we recognize that there is often an ulterior motive in publishing such rankings and, as such, we don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on them.”

Smith said that one of the reasons this list is questionable is the lack of transparency in the criteria used by Best Colleges to decide which schools are on their lists.

“These companies often rely on IPEDS — government reporting agency which is in the public domain — for their information, but what information they choose and how they interpret it is rarely clear,” he said. “This is why there are often schools on these lists that in many ways are not exemplary. ”

Johnson University President Gary Weedman said he likes where Johnson landed on the ranking list, but he too questioned the validly of the ranking.

He said many universities on the list do not meet what most people would consider a high enough academic standard for such a list.

Despite the lack of knowledge about the criteria used by Best Colleges, Smith said it could lead to positive publicity.

“Prospective students and donors who surf the Web looking for information about Johnson often end up on these sites,” he said. “This can be very helpful from a marketing perspective.”

While the publicity can be a positive for the university, Weedman hopes students will be more discerning when selecting a university.

“I would advise any student not to decide to come here just from finding us, or any other school, on a list,” he said.

Weedman and Smith agreed that some lists are better than others.

“There are rankings that carry a great deal of weight, like the Forbes top 100 financially fit schools list,” Smith said. “This is a very good ranking and a list we definitely want to be on.

“The same goes for the U.S. News and World Report university rankings. With most of these web-based only sites, it is a mixed bag and they are not as reliable,” he added.

Johnson placed 56th on the Forbes 100 Most Financially Fit Colleges list for 2016.

“We were second in the state of Tennessee, two behind Vanderbilt,” Weedman said. “Now that is a legitimate list. It means that we manage what we have very well and, for the size of school that we are, we have good resources.”

Weedman said that even in the case of more affluent lists, the mark of a successful school is the graduating students.

“The ultimate quality is you, the students that we graduate from here who go on feeling good about their education,” he said. “What lists we are on does not mean anything unless you’re satisfied with your education, our donors are satisfied with your education and your parents are satisfied with your education.”

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