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U.S. News ranks St. Olaf among the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the nation
August 27, 2008
St. Olaf College jumped seven spots to No. 47 in the latest edition of the U.S. News college rankings, the first time since 1998 that St. Olaf has been ranked among the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the nation.
"At St. Olaf we organize ourselves to provide the best possible liberal arts education for our students," says President David R. Anderson '74. "It's gratifying when that leads others to recognize us as one of the country's best colleges."
Though widely criticized by educators for its methodology, the U.S. News rankings do employ several measures that are widely accepted as legitimate indicators of academic quality -- indicators on which St. Olaf fared particularly well this year.
Two of those indicators are class size and faculty compensation. Attracting and retaining quality faculty and providing them with a classroom environment conducive to good teaching, with smaller class sizes, are widely considered key attributes of undergraduate excellence.
In this year's rankings, St. Olaf gained 34 spots within the U.S. News Faculty Resources category, reflecting the fact that the college has been working strategically to raise faculty salaries for several years now.
The percentage of classes at St. Olaf with fewer than 20 students also increased from 49 percent to 60 percent in one ranking period. While some new faculty hires contributed to this, the significant increase in smaller classes represents a concerted effort by the faculty and administration to more effectively manage existing faculty resources in a way that helps reduce class size.
Another indicator on which St. Olaf performed well is selectivity. Increasing interest in St. Olaf among prospective students and the college?s expanding national reputation have contributed to a sharp decline in acceptance rates. In recent years, St. Olaf College's acceptance rate has dropped from the mid-60s to 54 percent this ranking cycle. Accordingly, St. Olaf's overall U.S. News selectivity rank improved 17 notches, from 52 last year to 35 this year.
The U.S. News "America's Best Colleges" 2009 edition evaluates more than 1,400 of the nation's public and private four-year schools according to 15 different criteria organized according to peer assessment, student selectivity, graduation and retention rate, financial resources, alumni giving and graduation rate performance.
Institutions are divided into several distinct categories: national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities that offer master's degrees, and regional universities and colleges that offer predominantly baccalaureate degrees. The 265 institutions in the national liberal arts college category emphasize undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the liberal arts.