SLU ranking slips; B-school improves

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In the recently released 2013 edition of “America’s Best Colleges,” U.S. News ranked SLU 92nd among nearly 270 institutions listed in the magazine’s “National Universities” category. In the 2012 edition of the list, SLU was ranked 90th.

The University’s undergraduate business programs took a major jump in this year’s rankings, rising to 87 from 115 last year. The magazine also gave high marks to SLU’s undergraduate programs in entrepreneurship (No. 13) and international business (No. 18).

“I’ve said for years that we’re a top 50 school. So what we have to do is tell our story, Ellen Harshman, J.D., Ph.D., dean of the John Cook School, said. “Our students are great, our faculty are terrific, and there’s great scholarship here at SLU. But it doesn’t matter if nobody knows.”

Earlier this year, U.S. News named the University’s health law program No. 1 in the nation for the ninth consecutive year.

In its “Best Graduate Schools 2013” issue, the magazine also ranked several other graduate programs in the top 25, including public health administration at No. 9, geriatric medicine at No. 13, entrepreneurship at No. 17, international business at No. 20 and supply chain management at No. 21.

Harshman notes that among Midwestern schools, SLU’s ranking rises to No. 20. That puts the university amongst good company – schools like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Creighton.

Among the highlights of the recent rankings are the undergraduate business programs, which have been under Harshman’s direction since she became dean in 2003. She attributes the rise in the Cook School’s profile as the result of a concerted effort to spread the word about SLU and her high-profile position among fellow business school deans.

“A lot of these rankings are done by reputation, which is done by deans and chairs,” Harshman said. “I work hard to be visible and be a leader among those deans.”

Currently, Harshman is on a national committee re-writing accreditation rules for business schools in the United States. She also notes that two faculty members from SLU have left in the last year for deanships at other institutions.

But while the rise in the rankings is an encouraging sign for the university, the numbers fall well short of the strategic goals of the SLU Board of Trustees and Lawrence Biondi, S.J., university president. In a letter sent to the SLU community on Sept. 24, board chairman Thomas Brouster, Sr., said that the trustees “universally affirmed its goal to rank the University among the top 50 universities in the United States.”

Harshman addressed the shortfall, saying that the SLU must stay committed to achieving that goal.

“Rankings are not simple. They are driven by a formula,” she said. “We do what we do to affect the halo, and we move forward as much as we can. Every year we have to keep moving forward. Is 50 a magic number? No. But moving towards 50 is a nice target. We must trust ourselves to know what do to get better and tell the world what we’re doing right.”

The issue of school rankings has become a discussion topic among the student body. Because U.S. News uses a variety of variables in its methodology, some argue that the rankings are too subjective to be reliable.

According to Robert Morse, lead researcher in the U.S. News report, the rankings “allow you to compare at a glance the relative quality of institutions based on such widely accepted indicators of excellence” but also factor other variables, such as campus visits by researchers and varsity sports.

Student Government Association President Blake Exline says the recent rankings should be viewed as a trend, not individually.

“While U.S. News and World Report is not the only ranking system used to evaluate institutions of higher education, it is an important measure of how Saint Louis University ranks against other colleges and universities,” Exline said. “U.S. News and World Report, among other ranking bodies, can positively or negatively affect the curb appeal SLU offers to its applicants. A large enough swing in rankings could arguably have an affect on the value of a SLU degree; however, a two-position decrease is not particularly alarming.”