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Two Reports Worth Examining

Washington and Lee is among the group of 20 leading liberal arts colleges that has sworn off publicizing the various rankings primarily because such lists as U.S. News & World Report select particular data and, applying their own methodology, attempt to reduce all these data to a single number. With that in mind, there are two recently released studies in the last week that deserve mention. First, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance came out last week with its list of Best Values in Private College 2009-2010. Kiplinger does rank the top 50 national liberal arts colleges as part of the package, and you can sort on the magazine’s various data points. But, as Kiplinger’s indicates, there are some surprising overall data given the economic climate. For instance, the magazine reports that independent colleges “boosted financial aid by 9% while keeping tuition increases — an average of 4.3% — to their lowest levels in four decades….Families found that private college was still affordable, and enrollments generally held steady. David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, is quoted as saying: “What we’re seeing is a well-weathered storm.” At the same time that Kiplinger’s report was released last week, today will see the release of the National Survey of Student Engagement data for 2009. Known as NSSE, this survey has become an important source of information for colleges and universities to understand how undergraduates on their campuses are spending their time inside and outside the classroom. If you look at the NSSE data, you’ll not find Washington and Lee mentioned in 2009. That’s because the University participates in this survey every third year, administering it to both first-year students and seniors. That way it’s possible to see what has changed across four years at W&L. If you want to see more information about W&L’s NSSE results, you can find them on the Office of Institutional Effectiveness’ assessment page as pdf files.