Williams, Amherst share top-school ranking

Saturday, August 23
WILLIAMSTOWN — Who's number one? Well, both Williams and Amherst are.

U.S. News & World Report has released its 2009 rankings of the country's best liberal arts colleges, and Williams and Amherst are tied for the top spot. The magazine will be on newstands Monday.

The traditional rivals have both topped the magazine's rankings several times in the past, but this is the first time that they have been ranked number one at the same time, according to Williams College spokesman James Kolesar. According to Kolesar, this is the sixth straight year Williams has finished first in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, and has been ranked first 10 times since the rankings began in 1983. Williams has never ranked lower than third.

Amherst has topped the U.S. News & World Report rankings 10 times since their inception, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Amherst also shared the top spot with Swarthmore in 2001, according to Kolesar. Swarthmore is third this year.

"It's nice to be considered among the top schools in the country," Kolesar said.

Williams and Amherst have a unique history that accentuates their rivalry. Founded in 1793, Williams was in serious financial trouble by 1815. Six years later, then Williams President Zephaniah Swift Moore, who had taken the job believing the college would move east, took 15 students with him to the Pioneer Valley where he became Amherst's first president when the college was founded in 1821, according to Wikipedia.

The two schools compete in almost everything, but the rivalry is most noticeable in athletics. At 122 games, the Williams-Amherst football rivalry is the country's fourth-longest. The two schools also played the first intercollegiate baseball game in Pittsfield in 1859.

Their history may be colorful and intertwined, but Kolesar said Williams doesn't take the magazine's rankings seriously.

Results not publicized

"It is what it is," Kolesar said. "It's nothing more than that."

According to Amherst College Director of Media Relations Caroline Jenkins Hanna, both schools have agreed to not publicize any college rankings on principle.

They are not the only colleges that take that point of view.

Last year, the presidents of 20 small elite liberal arts colleges across the country, including Williams and Amherst, signed a statement in which they committed not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of their new publications, "since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of higher education can be reduced to one number."

"While we are always pleased when Amherst's excellent academics, faculty, and programs are recognized, we feel that there is no way to measure educational quality," said Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx in a written statement. "We hope that students will see a long list of great colleges in the U.S. and realize that there are many wonderful options."

Williams and Amherst both received a score of 100 in the magazine's rankings, three points higher than Swarthmore, and seven points more than fourth-place Wellesley College.

Representatives of U.S. News & World Report could not be reached for comment yesterday, but according to information on the magazine's Web site, the ranking system rests on two pillars: quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and U.S. News & World Report's nonpartisan view of what matters in education.

Ranked by mission

Schools are first categorized by their mission, which is derived from a report that classifies all accredited degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States, or by their region. Next, the magazine gathers data from each college for up to 15 indicators of academic excellence.

Each factor is assigned a weight that reflects the magazine's judgment regarding how each measure matters. Finally, the colleges are ranked against their peers, based on their composite weighted score.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224


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