Behind Jewell’s Rankings: Forbes and College of Distinction

Part one of a three part series aimed at understanding William Jewell College’s placement in six national rankings.

A College of Distinction is a college guide created by educational professionals in the US. The guide honors colleges with the title and provides information about the colleges on the list to high school students, counselors and parents so that they can make a well-informed decision when selecting a college.

There is not a maximum number of colleges chosen; rather, if a college meets the criteria, it is selected. A College of Distinction is judged by four main criteria: engaged students, teaching staff, the campus community, and outcomes for graduates.

According to the College of Distinction website, Jewell meets the engaged students standard with its long list of distinctive programs in which students can participate. Journey Grants, the ACT-In and Nonprofit Leadership majors, the Oxbridge Honors Program and the Pryor Leadership Studies program were all cited as benefits of Jewell. Most of these programs do not have equals at other schools.

The teaching staff and campus community were both referred to as benefits of Jewell’s small size. An average class size of 17 and the fact that students were taught directly by professors, rather than graduate students or teaching assistants, had an influence on the decision. Jewell’s policy that most students must live on campus was also a positive influencing factor, as many professionals said that this created more opportunities for personal development and encouraged students to take advantage of social and extracurricular programs.

Jewell was named a College of Distinction because of the graduate and workforce preparation students receive at the school. 98 percent of students were accepted into graduate programs, with schools like Yale and Stanford among these programs. Jewell graduates have also received several national honors including, Goldwater, Marshall, Truman, Fulbright and USA Today fellowships and scholarships. Jewell also has a high job placement rate and the College was listed as having one of the top 12 median income rates for first-year graduates, compared to other liberal arts schools in the nation. All of these factors helped make Jewell a College of Distinction.

Jewell was ranked as 375th overall and 90th in the Midwest on Forbes’ America’s Top Colleges list. 650 schools total were ranked on the list. Forbes creates its overall list formulaically: 32.5 percent of the decision is based on post-graduate success, 25 percent on student satisfaction, 25 percent on student debt, 10 percent on academic success and 7.5 percent on the graduation rate; each category has several component factors. Factors like alumni salaries, student feedback on, the percentage of students who transfer, student loan default rates and the honors that students from the college receive upon graduation are all a part of the ranking process. There are other factors taken into consideration, but some variables, such as collaborations with local businesses and technology on campus, are not taken into account.

The fact that since 2006 two Fulbright Scholars, two Goldwater Scholars and two Rhodes Scholar National Finalists graduated from Jewell benefited the College’s ranking in both the academic success and post-graduate success categories. Forbes also reports that 96 percent of students acquired jobs or were accepted into graduate school within six months of graduation, which was advantageous for the college’s ranking. Jewell’s Oxbridge Honors Program was also noted as helping the College in the ranking, as it significantly increased the academic success and student satisfaction categories.

Factors like Jewell’s comparatively low first-to-second year retention rate of 72 percent lowered their ranking. The student body’s high amount of debt also contributed negatively to the ranking, as about 68 percent of students receive federal loans. For comparison, 52 percent of Truman State University students take out federal loans, and their retention rate is 89 percent. In addition, Jewell’s four-year graduation rate is at 61 percent, which is low compared to liberal arts schools of a similar size.

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