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HIGHER EDUCATION: Dubious distinction

Book ranks UND high in unflattering areas, but school gains solace in making publication: 'The Best 331 Colleges'

By David Dodds
Herald Staff Writer

A nationally published guidebook on college life has included UND as one of the top colleges in the country, but when it comes to student assessments, the rankings weren't quite so flattering.

The 2002 edition of Princeton Review's "The Best 331 Colleges" ranked UND in the top 20 in four of 62 categories, including a No. 1 distinction. The titles of those categories, however, wouldn't be high on any college recruiter's list of sales pitches.

According to the New York-based Princeton Review and its scientific survey of 200 students at each ranked college, UND came in No. 1 for having the most unavailable faculty, No. 7 for worst library, No. 7 for student dissatisfaction with financial aid, and No. 12 for worst food.

The categories aren't exactly worded like that in the book or on the Princeton Review Web site. They instead have more clever headings, such as "Professors make themselves scarce," "This is a library?" and "Is it food?"

 

Not all negative

Not all of the categories listed in the book would be considered negative. There are many with which schools would be proud to be associated; but UND isn't considered to be top-20 material in any of those.

John Ettling, vice president of academic affairs and provost at UND, said he doesn't put a whole lot of stock in such rankings, be they good or bad.

"I have not seen the report, but I would invite anyone from the Princeton Review to come back out here to UND and see all of the students and faculty in offices and all of the interaction that is going on here," Ettling said, particularly about UND's ranking on faculty availability. "Whenever these rankings come out and we are ranked close to the top or the bottom, I take them with a grain of salt. I don't know any other way to take them."

Ettling said his daughter works for Princeton Review out of the company's offices in Minneapolis.

"I'm going to have to give her a call and see what's going on," he said jokingly.

 

'Cream of crop'

Erik Olson, editor of "The Best 331 Colleges," said UND officials shouldn't take its rankings too hard. In fact, he said, just to be included in the publication means the school is among the "cream of the crop."

"UND is an excellent university with a great aviation school," Olson said. "Students come from all over to enroll there."

Olson said what makes his book more meaningful than other college guides is that student opinions are foremost in calculating the rankings. Olson said results detailed in the book are the fruits of the largest ongoing survey ever done on college students and their assessments of colleges, some 65,000 responses from students at more than 3,000 colleges.

"The reason why ours is the best is that it's the only one based on student opinions," he said. "This is not Princeton Review's opinion. This is how students feel right now about these aspects of student life. We're just the messengers."

Olson said any school listed in the book, no matter how they rank in any of the categories, should take solace in that they represent the top 10 percent of colleges in the country.

 

Select company

Indeed, UND is in select company when it comes to making the list. It is the only four-year college in North Dakota and South Dakota in the book. Only the University of Minnesota, St. Olaf College, St. John's University and Macalester join UND in the book as regional representatives.

Some of the other categories listed in the book, but in which UND did not crack the top 20, include best and worst party schools, most accepting of gay community, best college town, and the most and least politically-active schools, just to name a just few.

This is the 10th year that Princeton Review has compiled a list of the best 331 colleges. Olson said it has always been one of the company's best selling publications.

The 2002 version of the book has been released, and it can be ordered from the Princeton Review Web site at www.review.com or at other computer sites, such as Amazon.com.

Dodds reports on higher education. Reach him at 780-1110, (800) 477-6572, ext. 110, or ddodds@gfherald.com.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, August 30, 2001

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