By Sophia Harris
Framingham State University has risen 13 spots in the Top Regional University in the North Region category by U.S. News & World Report, which released its annual college rankings on Sept. 18.
FSU is now number 80 among all public and private Regional Universities for the north region.
The region includes New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.
Framingham State has also qualified as a Top Regional Public University in the North Region, coming in at 28, up from number 29 last year.
President Nancy Niemi said Framingham State has continued to improve across the board - from marketing to student engagement - although the U.S. News & World Report ranking is not an accurate depiction of how Framingham State performs compared to other schools.
U.S. News & World Report is used by many families across the United States to help determine their college choice, said Niemi, but the ranking itself has a lack of “methodology.”
In an email sent by Niemi to faculty and staff on Oct. 4, 2022, Niemi stated, “U.S. News & World Report rankings are perhaps the most influential rankings used by prospective students and their families.”
The U.S. News & World Report uses seven weighted categories of ranking to determine an institution’s score: graduation and retention rates the average six-year rates; social mobility Pell Grant graduation rates; undergraduate academic reputation which is determined by a peer survey; faculty resources for 2021-22 many factors including faculty-student ratio; student selectivity for the Fall 2021 entering class; financial resources per student; and graduate indebtedness.
Niemi said, “I think the rankings do far more harm than good because they put false measures of effectiveness and excellence into a conversation where that measurement just doesn't give an accurate picture of everything that goes on at a school.”
Provost and Vice President Kristen Porter-Utley echoed Niemi’s concerns about ranking systems and addressed the impact they can have on enrollment for many universities.
She said, “I do not believe any ranking can measure the true value of a particular college through a series of often subjective metrics, which is why you are starting to see some pushback nationally against high-stakes rankings such as U.S. News & World Report.”
However, she added, “For better or worse, students and families continue to put stock in the U.S. News & World Report rankings when making college decisions. Highlighting our improved ranking can make FSU look more attractive to prospective students.”
She said there is a balance between the significance of the ranking and understanding it does not make up the complete “picture of our dynamic and excellent academic community.”
In order to participate in the U.S. News & World Report ranking, universities must submit data from a range of sources.
Every spring, FSU must complete a comprehensive survey that contains over 250 questions, according to Porter-Utley.
She said Ann Caso, the associate director of institutional effectiveness, manages the oversight of the survey and collaborates with departments across campus in order to provide the data and information required for the survey.
A peer assessment survey is sent to university presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions to complete in order to rank the academic quality of peer institutions, according to Porter-Utley.
Publicly available data from the Department of Education through the College Scorecard and IPEDS are also used for the ranking, she said.
She said Framingham State’s peer assessment ranking, which makes up 20% of the overall score, increased from 2.6 to 2.7 on a scale from 1, which is marginal, to 5, which is distinguished, and “that likely made a difference for us this year.”
Niemi said the peer assessment is conducted through a survey in which universities can rank other universities (its peers) through a survey format, but this process has little to no oversight and does not have to be justified by any concrete evidence of why one university would rank another in a certain way.
She said she does not particularly have a lot of respect for the U.S. News & World Report ranking system or any college ranking system because of the methodology and the “inability to assess any school fairly” through peer opinions.
Niemi said Framingham State probably improved in the peer assessment category because the University has started to advertise more and develop its brand identity.
“Maybe that's why people see us more and know us more,” she said.
Porter-Utley said under the leadership of Niemi, Framingham State is “developing a new website, has a new brand, is on the verge of sharing out our new strategic enrollment management plan, and is starting our university strategic-planning process.”
She said FSU needs to “keep being visible and tell our stories.”
She added, “When people hear about and see the good and meaningful work we are doing and know more about the success of our students, our reputation will improve.”
In the email sent to faculty and staff, Niemi said, “When you break into the data, an area that stands out for improvement is our first-year retention rate of 71%, which is below many of our peers.”
She added, “This has been an area of focus for the University and may not come as a surprise to many of you.”
However, “it reinforces the importance of the work we are doing to improve the first-year experience and ensure that students are getting the support they need to progress to their second year and beyond,” said Niemi.
Porter-Utley said Framingham State is “working across divisions on many initiatives to improve our institutional success” especially in areas such as enrollment, student readiness, and community and regional engagement.
She added FSU does not have any initiatives developed “specifically” to further increase the University’s ranking in U.S News & World Report.
Rather, the U.S. News & World Report ranking is a “secondary benefit of our current efforts to improve student success.”
Two of the barometers U.S. News & World Report uses to categorize institutions are graduation rates and retention.
Porter-Utley said Academic Affairs is working closely with Chief Enrollment Officer Iris Godes and Vice President of Academic Enhancement Lorretta Holloway to “develop and implement strategies to improve graduation rates and retention.”
Niemi said aside from her “ambivalence” and “mixed feelings” about college ranking systems, Framingham State still continues to participate in them because many people use them to help determine their college choices.
However, she advised not to put “too much stock” in the significance of what this means about Framingham State as an institution because if the University were to drop in the U.S. News & World Report rankings next year, “We can't say, ‘Oh, no, we're not great anymore,’ of course, because the measure was wrong in the first place.”
Nevertheless, because Framingham State did improve its rankings, U.S. News & World Report allowed the University to purchase two badges to use as part of its marketing strategy, said Godes.
Niemi said, “We had a calculated conversation about whether it was worth the money” to buy the badges for the University’s optics.
She said the University did decide to purchase and use the badges and “we are going to market it to death.
“But we use it - understanding all of the complexities,” she said.
Godes said the University will feature the U.S. News & World Report badges on digital and print materials.
She added that FSU will promote these rankings to families of prospective college students and although some might not know what the rankings mean in relation to how FSU is performing compared to other schools, for those who are looking to see if the University has been evaluated by an outside source, it provides that recognition.
“This is good news that we're being recognized by a national organization. We're promoting it,” Godes said.
SGA President Evelyn Campbell said she thoroughly enjoys being a student at Framingham State for reasons such as small class sizes, support from the administration, and being a part of organizations on campus.
She said she is proud of Framingham State for rising in the rankings because of the high quality of education and close relationships she has been able to form in every corner of the campus.
“It’s such a warm and welcoming community,” she said.
Student Trustee Ryan Mikelis said being recognized by U.S. News & World Report is a great opportunity “as an institution that cares for and prioritizes students.”
He said he has personally grown as an individual at FSU and his opportunities have been endless.
“We are a small but caring and supportive community. I always knew that this school was the right choice for me ever since I first stepped onto campus,” he said.
He added throughout his time spent at Framingham State, “I have grown my personal resume and skills beyond what I ever thought I could achieve. At Framingham State, I achieved everything I wanted to, and more.”
Sophomore Idalina Marques said she thinks FSU's improved ranking “is great.”
She said she is not surprised because she has “really enjoyed every class and every day here at Framingham State.”
Junior Gwen Schutt said she is proud of the University for being able to increase its scores.
She added, “It's a great sign that we are headed in the right direction. I know we have a new president, as of last year, so congratulations to her for being able to make steps toward progressing our University on the right path.”
She added she likes the tight-knit community of FSU and “the fact that we're kind of small and close - you see familiar faces and it makes it easier to make friends and meet new people.”
Freshman Alvin Dazile said Framingham State is “doing their thing” in regards to the University improving its ranking.
He said he loves attending FSU and without coming to this University, he would not have been able to meet his best friends.
Gesturing to the student standing next to him, he said, “This is my dawg - he is from Bermuda and I met him here.”
Freshman Tegan Swan said the improvement in the University’s U.S. News & World Report ranking is “really well deserved because Framingham State is such a good school and does a lot of things for the community.”
Junior Sarah Senet said she feels the improvement in the ranking is beneficial to the University and its students.
She added, “Hopefully, Framingham State can continue to improve more.”
She said her favorite part about Framingham State is the people.
“I have definitely enjoyed my time here,” she said.