A little good news right now is probably a blessed relief. So, I am here to offer a little slice of heaven. Well, as much as survey data is in the same district as heaven.
At the top of the charts: We are number 5! U.S. News & World Report has ranked Beloit College the fifth most-innovative national liberal arts college in the country. Surely, this reflects the college’s national leadership through its Beloit Action Plan and our successful return to campus this fall. While a good case can be made that we should be number 1, number 5 is a great big step in the right direction.
On the surface, I know this doesn’t sound quite so great, but wait until you read the rest of the story: We are number 30! Washington Monthly puts out an annual college ranking in which 218 liberal arts colleges are scored based on the quality of their social impact (social mobility, research, promoting public service). It is the rare college ranking method that is based on what actually happens at the college and how alumni take advantage of it, rather than the college’s endowment. To be an economist for a moment, Washington Monthly measures “outputs” rather than “inputs.” Good for them. Our outputs—that is, our alumni—are among the nation’s most effective. The highly recognizable schools ranked behind Beloit remind me how we punch well above our weight when it comes to real impact.
How about this for a number to get excited about? 90 percent. That is our retention rate this fall: the percentage of students who returned for their sophomore year after completing their first year. For the past couple of years, we have been a little above the national average for four-year colleges, but this shoots us into the rarefied company of the most successful colleges. To have this level of success in the middle of a pandemic speaks volumes about how our students are perceiving their education.
But let’s dig into that. Every three years, the college participates in the National Survey of Student Engagement. It asks students about the quality of their educational experience with a specific eye toward those factors that higher education research has identified as being most impactful. Through this survey, we can compare ourselves against other schools with respect to how our students are experiencing the college relative to how students at other colleges are experiencing their schools.
For example, we know that connecting what is going on in class to the real world is a catalyst to making the learning in that classroom stick. 71 percent of our first-year students report that this is happening very often in their classes versus 51 percent at other colleges (or 58 percent at other liberal arts colleges). We also know that taking advantage of diverse perspectives is essential to being productive in a 21st century world. 92 percent of Beloit’s first-year students report having regular discussions with people of a different race or ethnicity from their own. That is far ahead of the experience of students at other colleges—70 percent at all participating schools and 74 percent at other liberal arts colleges.
The list of high-impact educational practices in which Beloit students report better experiences than other colleges goes on and on. Indeed, Beloit beats the competition on average in 61 of the 72 categories. No wonder Beloit students describe their relationship with faculty to be excellent or nearly excellent vastly more regularly than other schools (74 percent to 52 percent). These are enormous differences.
The story these data tell is one of innovative effectiveness, something completely consistent with what I hear from alumni when they connect their Beloit experiences to their lives after Beloit. They tell a story that ties 175 years of Beloit College together. That is one seriously good news story. We are Beloiters! And that is number one in my book.
From here at Chapin’s desk (where I have been pretty much 24-7 for the last six months),
President Scott Bierman