With school-monitored fraternity and sorority parties on campus, city noise-control officers patrolling off-campus parties and only a handful of bars in downtown, some in College Park were stunned yesterday by a new survey that ranks the University of Maryland among the top 20 "party schools" in the country.
Maryland, in fact, just made the list, coming in at No. 20 in the rankings compiled annually by the Princeton Review, a New York-based educational preparation and testing company. It was apparently Maryland's first appearance among so-called party schools, which are ranked using such criteria as student alcohol and drug use, popularity of Greek life and hours spent studying each week.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison was ranked the No. 1 party school this year, followed by Ohio University-Athens, Lehigh University, the University of California-Santa Barbara and the State University of New York at Albany. No other Maryland colleges made the list, though the Naval Academy appeared on the Review's alternate ranking of "Stone-Cold Sober" schools, coming in at No. 5.
Both lists are among more than 60 sets of rankings that make up the Princeton Review's annual guide to the nation's top colleges and universities. This year's guide reviewed 361 schools. The annual listing involves a 70-question multiple-choice and short-answer survey completed by an average of 300 students per school, said Lisa Marie Rovito, the survey's senior editor. From those, lists of the top and bottom 20 schools in dozens of categories are compiled.
"It's nothing that we decide" independently, Rovito said. "It's solely based on the student opinions that we're receiving in those surveys."
News of the party-school rank surprised Meghan Hatfield, director of public relations for Maryland's Student Government Association.
"I'm kind of blindsided by this," said Hatfield, "From an SGA stance, that's something we should take caution with. We don't want our school to be known for partying. We want our school to be known for academic output."
Cassandra Robinson, the university's acting director of communications, pointed out that surveys like this one, which rely on student opinions, often vary drastically from year to year. Seven new schools, for instance, made this year's top-20 party list.
"I think all of the surveys should be taken with a grain of salt," Robinson said. "Students should use a variety of sources to determine what is the best school for them. Most importantly is actually visiting the school and getting a sense of the climate when they're on campus."
But student Adam Cohen, a sophomore business major from Cherry Hill, N.J., said of the news: "That seems about right. We like to work hard and play hard."
In recent years, restrictions imposed on College Park's campus-party scene have helped limit the number and size of on- and off-campus parties. Most of these crackdowns were spurred by two drug- and alcohol-related deaths in a year: The club drug GHB contributed to sophomore Alexander Klochkoff's death in 2001, and freshman Daniel Reardon died from alcohol poisoning in 2002.
So-called "social events monitors" randomly attend Greek parties, which are now required to have guest lists and a person checking IDs. Fraternities and sororities that fail to meet these requirements face sanctions.
The university also requires incoming freshmen to complete an online educational alcohol course from alcoholedu.com, Robinson said.
The city of College Park also has stepped up policing of the party scene in town. For example, it monitors noise levels for off-campus parties, which cannot exceed 55 decibels after 8 p.m., said Jeannie Ripley, the city's code-enforcement supervisor. Enforcement officers issue warnings - or $500 and $1,000 noise-violation tickets - which quickly squelch loud gatherings, she said.
"Once you issue a couple of those, word tends to get out and it gets better," Ripley said.
With all those restrictions in place, former student government President Aaron Kraus said he has no idea how the school made the top-20 list.
"House parties have been shut down," Kraus said. "Parties in Greek life have been shut down. All you have now is four bars in College Park. I don't agree with that ranking at all."
But Simon Dinits, a 21-year-old senior from Gaithersburg, disagreed. Dinits said he found his niche when he joined Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity his sophomore year.
"I think we party pretty hard," Dinits said. "I don't think [this school] is lame for me personally, but I could definitely see how if you're not in certain circles or you don't really find your group or your interest then it could definitely be lame - even at such a big school."
Other rankings of the University of Maryland, College Park in the 2005 Princeton Review survey of the top 361 U.S. colleges and universities:
1: Students most supportive of their sports teams
7: Best college newspaper; number of students dissatisfied with financial aid
17: Students (almost) never study
For a complete list of college rankings in more than 60 categories, go online to princetonreview.com.
List of U.S. colleges ranked as the top "party schools" by the Princeton Review:
1. University of Wisconsin-Madison
2. Ohio University-Athens
3. Lehigh University
4. University of California-Santa Barbara
5. State University of New York at Albany
6. Indiana University-Bloomington
9. University of Massachusetts-Amherst
10. Loyola University New Orleans