Ranking the College Experience

Posted by The Editorial Board

This August, the Princeton Review ranked Skidmore College No. 1  in their category "Reefer Madness."  Immediately following Skidmore were the University of Colorado, Boulder and  Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.

The Princeton Review bases their annually revised rankings on eighty online surveys. The ranking of schools under "Reefer Madness" is determined by students' answers to one question on the survey: "How widely is marijuana used at your school?" A student answers this question using a Likert scale, a five-point answer scale where one-point is designated  "Not at All" and the five-point option is designated  "Extremely." Students are also invited to contribute more detail in an optional comment box.

 To take the survey, students log-in on the Princeton Review website with their email  --which does not have to be the official .edu address issued by their college -- and select their school from a drop-down list. The survey system will only accept one survey from each e-mail address listed.

 The Princeton Review states that the average number of student surveys they receive from a school is 333, or roughly thirteen percent of Skidmore's student body. But the response rates of larger schools such as the University of Vermont skews the mean to the right, which suggests Skidmore's actual response rate is likely substantially lower.

The Princeton Review is undeniably a well-known and widely referenced publication and resource to prospective students, but how much stock should one take in their rankings as current undergraduate students? As students, there is a natural tendency to be invested in the reputation of one's school; and it's healthy for an institution when its students are consciously cultivating a reputable environment. But is it possible to rate the college experience using a two-dimensional one to five scale?

A collegiate environment is created and fostered by three parties: professors, the administration and past and present students. On this basis, the environment of an institution is constantly changing due to the constantly changing student body. And the student-body does not just restyle annually with the incoming freshman class-new clubs, performances, research and student government decisions are created daily. The collegiate environment has the unique and beautiful quality of being a constantly transforming-and transformative-community of new and challenging thought. While college is certainly a collective experience with our peers, it's also a highly personal, individualized experience for each student. This is true specifically at an institution such as Skidmore, where opportunities such as small class sizes and self-determined major options encourage individual growth. The Skidmore experience will never mean the same thing for two students.

While The Skidmore News recognizes the efforts of the Princeton Review to produce data on schools based solely on student input, it must be noted that we believe it to be impossible to accurately assess a four-year college experience with the selection of a single bubble, something we fear students and the larger population are taking away from this survey. While it's productive to be invested in the character of our college, it is ultimately the student body that defines an institution, not the institution's reputation that defines the student body. Skidmore may currently reside at the top of the Princeton Review's Reefer Madness list for better or for worse -- or for somewhere in between -- but Skidmore, its students and its experience, can't conceivably be defined by one label.  

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