The University of Maryland, College Park keeps knocking, but it can't get in.
In the much anticipated annual listing of the nation's top schools released by U.S. News and World Report yesterday, UMCP is once again among the second tier of national universities, failing to crack the top 50 schools that make up the magazine's premier list. This year, Princeton University is rated first.
"It is frustrating," said Gregory Geoffrey, UMCP's provost, "when I know very well that the quality of education undergraduates are receiving here is better than they would get at some of those ranked above us, but that is not reflected in the methodology used in these rankings."
A closer look at the U.S. News statistics backs Geoffrey up. For instance, the most influential number - 25 percent of the final score - is academic reputation. UMCP gets a 3.7 out of a possible five, a number that is higher than those of 12 schools in the top 50.
College Park ranks above seven of the top 50 in its freshmen SAT average and is ahead of 14 of those schools in the percentage of applicants it accepts.
"In all of the elements that relate to the profile of our students and the selectivity of the institution, we far exceed others that are higher ranked," said Linda Clement, director of undergraduate admissions at UMCP.
The reasons that the state's flagship institution can't crack this elite list are complex, according to Bill Spann, assistant vice president for institutional research and planning.
"You have to look at the methodology," he says. "Some of the categories use averages over time, so an institution like Maryland that has made improvements in recent years is still limited by numbers that may have been reported two or three years ago."
Spann said he was not expecting UMCP to make the top-50 list, but he was hoping the school would be among the top 20 public universities after ranking 22nd last year. Instead, it fell into a tie for 24th with Rutgers, behind four schools that tied for 20th.
Spann says that Maryland is hampered in those rankings because it has a large number of part-time students who always take longer to graduate.
"If you look at the top public institutions like Berkeley, UCLA, Chapel Hill, at the undergraduate level they are basically only dealing with full-time students," he says.
There is a similar time lag in freshman retention measurements. U.S. News averages figures for the last three years, but Spann says the increasing quality of UMCP's entering classes combined with new programs to help retention mean that number is higher now than the one used in the rankings.
Still, there are areas where College Park is clearly behind. For instance, only 13 percent of its alumni contribute to the school, a figure that accounts for 5 percent of a school's score. Spann also points to faculty resources, 20 percent of the score. College Park holds its own in this category in its class-size measurements, but Spann says it is hurt in a major category that is not reported in the magazine - faculty salaries.
"We know we are behind our peer institutions," he says.
The state's highest-ranked school - Johns Hopkins - which soared to seventh in last year's ranking fell this year to 15th. But both its rise and fall were somewhat artificial, as they had to do with changes in the way U.S. News calculated spending per student.
Hopkins has always downplayed these rankings and continued to do so this year.
"It is clear that Hopkins today is every bit as strong an institution as it was a year ago, and the year before that and the year before that, if not stronger," said Dennis O'Shea, the school's spokesman.
Johns Hopkins University - 15th
University of Maryland, College Park - second tier
University of Maryland, Baltimore County - third tier
National Liberal Arts Colleges:
St. Mary's College -- second tier
Goucher College -- third tier
St. John's College -- third tier
Washington College -- third tier
Western Maryland College -- third tier
Regional Universities in the North:
Loyola College -- fourth
Hood College -- 11th
Mount St. Mary's College -- 23rd
College of Notre Dame -- 32nd
Salisbury State University -- second tier
Towson University -- second tier
Frostburg State University -- third tier
Morgan State University -- third tier
Bowie State University -- fourth tier
Coppin State College -- fourth tier
University of Maryland, Eastern Shore -- fourth tier
Regional Liberal Arts Colleges in the North:
Columbia Union College -- third tier
Villa Julie College -- third tier
source -- U.S. News and World Report