NU ranked 98th by U.S. News and World Report

Northeastern achieved its longtime goal of becoming one of the top 100 colleges in the country when the 2007 U.S. News and World Report’s Best American Colleges rankings were released Aug. 18.

Northeastern tied with seven other schools for the No. 98 spot, including University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The university improved its position from last year by 17 spots, and by 52 spots from 2001. Northeastern was also ranked among the top schools for co-ops and internships.

Other local institutions that made the top 100 include Harvard University, at the No. 2 spot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the No. 4 spot, Tufts University at 27, Boston College at 34 and Boston University at 57.

The rankings compare 248 national universities, 162 public and 86 private schools, based on attributes such as acceptance selectivity rates, SAT/ACT scores of entering students and reputation. Northeastern’s reputation score, based on evaluations from other schools, rose from 2.1 to 3.9 out of five possible points this year.

The increase in the reputation score was the most important contribution to Northeastern’s unprecedented increase from last year, said Mark Putnam, chief planning officer for the university.

Reputation, which constitutes 25 percent of the rankings score, is the single biggest piece of the overall score. To complete the evaluation, the president, provost, and dean of admissions of each school rate the academic quality of similarly categorized schools, as well as their own.

Putnam said the significant increase in the score proves all of the things that have been done to improve Northeastern’s image have worked.

The other 75 percent of the ranking score is based on a standard formula measuring academic qualities such as graduation rates, freshman retention rate, class size, alumni giving rate, selectivity rank and acceptance rates.

Putnam said one factor of academic quality Northeastern worked hard to increase was the number of class sections with enrollment of less than 20 students, which increased by 10 percent from last year.

“It makes good sense from a teaching standpoint, because students have more direct contact with the professors in smaller classes,” he said.

The rankings reward recruiting of higher level students, and give weight to increased student retention, which motivates the university to build a higher quality institution, Putnam said.

For admissions standards, the ranking means the trend of increased selectivity will continue, and students of increased ability will find Northeastern attractive, Putnam said.

“Thinking ahead, the ranking positions us very well,” he said. “It will strengthen the university and we’ll be recognized by the rest of the higher education community.”

Reaching the top 100 was a driving goal of former President Richard Freeland, who helped transform the university over the past decade.

“I had hoped that [reaching the top 100] might happen this year, but it seemed a bit of a stretch to jump 17 places in one year,” President Freeland said. He said he regretted not having reached it when he stepped down from office, but when the rankings came out two days later he couldn’t have been happier.

Freeland said he thought making the goal to reach the top 100 in the first decade of the 21st Century would be a big challenge.

“The fact that we did it in five years is remarkable,” he said. “It’s a great confirmation of what a high-quality school Northeastern is.”

Putnam commended Freeland for his commitment to Northeastern reaching the top tier of national universities and said reaching this goal would leave him with a great legacy.

“Freeland had the sense of ambition that brought the university together,” he said. “His leadership gave us the focus to achieve the top.”

Freeland attributed the success to the entire Northeastern community and said that hundreds and hundreds of people worked to make Northeastern a top-tier school.

“It’s finally nice to be recognized, because we are a great school,” said Viral Gandhi, middler speech pathology major. Gandhi contributed Northeastern’s success to the recruiting of a lot more diverse students.

Liliana Lopez, a political science graduate student from El Salvador, said being in the top 100 is important to international students. The more recognition the school receives the more international students there will be and then the student experience will be more enriched, she said.

Putnam said he has considered Northeastern a top school for many years, and by reaching the number 98 spot, he said the university is finally taking its “rightful place” among the top in the United States.

Rogan O’Handley, president of the Student Government Association, agreed with Putnam.

“I feel that this has been a long time coming,” O’Handley said. “We at this university know that we are a spectacular institution and the rankings finally coincide.”

After reaching such a long-term goal, the emphasis for the future will be to continue improving academic programming, Putnam said, and new President Joseph Aoun will provide a fresh start.

What’s next for the university is the big question before the campus community and President Aoun now that we’ve reached the top 100, Freeland said.

“My hope would be that we don’t make a primary focus of increasing in the rankings,” he said. The focus should now be on the quality of the institution, he said.

“If we [focus on quality] then we could easily become a top 50 school over time,” Freeland said.

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