TCU rank improvement and why it doesn’t really matter

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    When U.S. News and World Report released its 2015 rankings, it revealed TCU sitting at No. 76 among national universities. That’s a six-spot improvement from last year, and a 37 spot jump since 2008.

    But when it comes to the importance of these rankings with high school seniors considering colleges, the statistics are telling—college-bound students don’t really care. According to the UCLA study The American Freshman: National Norms 2013, college rankings are the number 12 factor students consider when selecting a college.

    Instead, students are turning to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites to gather research on colleges.

    Dean of Admissions Ray Brown confirmed most prospective TCU students don’t consult the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

    “U.S. News and World Report is a source that nearly none of our students use,” Brown said.

    About 24 percent of college-bound high school seniors used college ranking websites, according to The 2014 Social Admissions Report released by Uversity and Zinch. In comparison, almost 60 percent of college-bound high school seniors used the student-survey generated Niche (formerly known as CollegeProwler), in their college decisions.

    How students are researching colleges

    In the 2014 Social Admissions Report from Uversity and Zinch, 1,800 college-bound high school seniors completed a survey.

    Of those, 68 percent stated they used social media to research colleges and 72 percent “liked” or “followed” a college they were considering.

    Facebook ranks No. 1 among social media sites visited for college information, while YouTube and Twitter follow at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

    As of Oct. 2, 2014, TCU had 56,321 likes on its Facebook page, and more than 36,000 followers on Twitter. U.S. News and World Report No. 1, Princeton University, has more than 281,000 likes on Facebook, and more than 122,000 Twitter followers.

    The Halo effect

    Ivy Leagues boast impressive rankings from U.S. News and World Report, but TCU Provost Nowell Donovan suggests that many of these top-rated schools get a rank boost from faculty prestige.

    No. 1 ranked Princeton University claims 37 Nobel laureates; No. 2 ranked Harvard, 48; and No. 3 ranked Yale, 25.

    “Ivy League universities who have fabulous faculty brought in from around the world, a lot of those faculty don’t actually teach undergraduates. So they get a sort of Halo effect,” Donovan said, “because you’ve got some really distinguished faculty on your ranks makes everyone think they get to be taught by those professors, and well, in fact, they don’t.”

    What’s important to students

    According to The American Freshman, the most important factor to students’ decision is an institution’s “academic reputation.” However, the same report claims affordability is nearly equal in importance.

    “College cost and financial aid issues have become even more salient in students’ college choice process,” The American Freshman states.

    According to U.S. News and World Report, 52 percent of TCU students applied for need-based aid, and 22 percent had needs fully met. In comparison, 64 percent of Princeton’s undergrads applied for need-based aid, and 100 percent of those had needs fully met.

    A ‘Strategic Plan’

    Donovan says that any movement in rankings, whether positive or negative, can be an important benchmark to the university. But when comparing TCU to other national universities he said he’s “just interested in what TCU’s doing.”

    TCU’s Vision In Action is Chancellor Victor Boschini’s plan for a holistic analysis of the university. Boschini instituted the project during his third year as chancellor and asked Donovan to spearhead the project.

    Donovan says, “There are very few things that come out of the Office of Academic Affairs that are not part of the strategic plan.”

    The analysis became the planning mechanism for evaluating campus and academics.

    The multimillion dollar plan for the new Business Commons, the new addition to the Annie Richardson Bass Building, and the state-of-the-art Rees-Jones Hall are all a result of Vision in Action.

    “On a rising tide, all ships float upwards,” Donovan said about the improvements he plans for the strategic plan.

    Ranking effect on admissions

    Despite attracting a record-number of applicants (Admissions anticipates 17,000-19,000 next year), TCU plans to keep the student body around 10,000.

    Keeping the student body population low while applications continue to rise is how TCU became the second most selective university in Texas, just behind Rice.

    This year’s incoming class set the bar even higher in the competition for admittance. Boschini said the Class of 2018 had the highest SAT and ACT scores in TCU history.

    Despite the drastic improvement for TCU in the U.S. News and World Report, Brown says it’s unlikely the ranking improvement will affect TCU admissions.

    “At worst, it won’t hurt us. My sense is though, is that it’ll be pretty neutral.”