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CMC's Glass Ceiling in College Rankings

April 26, 2010

Nico Brancolini
CMC's Glass Ceiling in College Rankings

With the recent release of the admissions statistics for the Claremont McKenna College class of 2014, the sordid topic of “ranking” has once again entered our collective conscience. I would love to see CMC’s ranking break into the top 10 for liberal arts colleges, but our humble school’s ranking does not have good chance at going up unless it diversifies its academic programs and devotes more resources to majors outside of economics and government. It might seem obvious the lack of academic diversity among the student body is holding our school back.  We are a specialized school masquerading as a liberal arts college, but too many people are not being fooled.  I don’t blame the students for this; it’s just a vicious cycle.  Our school emphasizes the government and economics programs when recruiting students. The technique seems to be working as we get many students from across the county and around the world who are interested in these areas.  Where we are less successful is appealing to students with other interests.

I actually think that this government and economics emphasis is part of the reason we suffer a lack of name recognition.  There are plenty of smart kids across the country whose interests lie in the humanities  –history, literature, film and all sorts of other great majors precede grad school.  Those students are not looking at CMC.  Maybe they stumble across it when they visit Pomona, but unless there is some family connection or other extenuating circumstance, CMC is unlikely to appeal to them over our sister to the south if their academic interests do not conform to our reputation.

Another sad truth is we do not even have a monopoly on people who are interested in government and economics.  We are competing with Ivy League schools for those students; I think you would be hard-pressed to find a student interested in government who would select CMC over Harvard University if admitted to both.  I say this not because I think Harvard has a better government program; in fact I suspect the opposite, given students there have poor access to professors and classes taught by teaching assistants.  But name recognition does count for something, particularly in government.

I transferred here from George Washington University in Washington D.C. for my sophomore year.  My friends back home in Indiana had all heard of GW and were impressed by it, but when I informed them I planned to transfer to CMC, they were shocked.  None of them were familiar with the school.  I also considered transferring to USC, and all my friends back home were partial to me becoming a Trojan simply because they had more familiarity with the school. I think objective analysis would show CMC to be more academically rigorous than either GW or USC, but that is not the perception.  GW, USC and Harvard are large research institutions.  They are inevitably going to be better known, but even within liberal arts colleges we are not especially well known.

Ultimately, I think we as a school need to consider expanding and committing resources to our other programs if we want to further increase our name recognition and rankings.  We need to make a concerted effort to better support departments like history and psychology that have broader appeal, but our recent track record is poor.

The best way to increase our ranking and our school’s prestige is to diversify.  Isn’t that what our stock-broker friends would recommend?  If we truly want our school's rankings to go up, the student body should encourage more resource allocation to programs that will bring in more diverse students.  The only other option is to settle with our good– not phenomenal– ranking within the world of liberal arts colleges.

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