F&M students

This is a view of Old Main on the Franklin & Marshall College Campus Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.

Franklin & Marshall College received the highest marks among Lancaster County colleges listed in the 36th annual U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings released this week.

The long-running publication lauded the 2,200-student liberal arts college in Lancaster city for its value, distribution of need-based aid, high graduation rates and low student-to-faculty ratio. It rated F&M a 75 out of 100 overall and ranked it 43rd among national liberal arts colleges.

Based on factors such as student outcomes, academic reputation, faculty resources and financial resources, the rankings are meant to inform students who are looking to embark on a path to postsecondary education. The magazine used data from 2019 and earlier, so the coronavirus pandemic did not impact this year's rankings.

“Given that the primary use of the rankings is by students and their families in the college selection process, these strong indicators of the strength of the student body and the academic program present F&M in a very strong light,” Alan Caniglia, F&M’s vice president of strategic initiatives, said in a statement.

Critics question rankings

While the rankings are a hot commodity each year, they’ve come under fire from critics who say they recognize the wrong virtues, such as wealth and reputation, in colleges. Consequently, U.S. News has in recent years added factors such as social mobility, or success among Pell Grant recipients.

Jeremy Raff, college and career services coordinator at School District of Lancaster, the county’s largest school district, said he typically doesn’t pay much attention to college rankings.

“I don't think Princeton ranking one or two is going to matter to them,” Raff said of the students in Lancaster, most of whom come from low-income households.

Instead, Raff said, the district tends to focus on colleges less known for their prestige and more for their solid track record of serving diverse students.

“A ranking can maybe give you a sense of comfort and pride,” he said, “but it’s certainly not the only thing to look at for schools.”

Some smaller, specialty colleges, such as Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster city, routinely go unranked by U.S. News.

Schools like the art college depend less on test scores and more on portfolio reviews and one-on-one interaction when considering students for admission, which is one reason why the college goes unranked. The college is currently test-optional and, in fall 2021, will stop considering test scores altogether when making admission decisions.

“We don't necessarily need rankings out there to say, ‘Here, look at us.’ We are going to where they are in their community,” said Carissa Massey, the art college’s provost.

The success of a graduate at the art college typically isn’t measured by income upon graduation — a weighty factor used by U.S. News — but life satisfaction and happiness.

“They’re measuring student success and outcomes purely from a monetary standpoint,” said Jennifer Renko, director of enrollment and admissions at the art college.

Other local colleges

Some colleges, however, still take pride in their inclusion in U.S. News’ annual rankings.

Millersville University, Elizabethtown College and Lancaster Bible College also made it to U.S. News’ list.

Millersville, which has about 7,700 students, is the county’s largest college and its lone state-owned university. It was acknowledged among the best public colleges and universities in the country.

U.S. News rated Millersville 49 out of 100 and ranked it 29th among top public schools and 96th among regional universities in the North.

“I see this ranking as recognition of the effort and quality of our faculty and staff at Millersville University to provide high-impact learning experiences focused on attracting and retaining top-notch students,” university President Daniel Wubah said in a statement.

Elizabethtown College earned a 55 out of 100 rating and ranked 113th among national liberal arts colleges.

Lancaster Bible College was rated in the bottom 25% but ranked 80th in social mobility.

Elizabethtown spokeswoman Keri Straub said the college was still reviewing the rankings and could not provide further comment by LNP|LancasterOnline’s deadline Wednesday. 

"While rankings don’t give the complete picture of any college or university, LBC | Capital is honored to be listed alongside those who are helping students realize their full potential, both personally and professionally," Lancaster Bible shared in a statement Wednesday.

Detailed local rankings

Here are more detailed rankings at each of the four Lancaster County colleges listed. (Note: Low-ranked schools were placed in a range rather than a specific ranking.)

Elizabethtown College: 55 rating, 113th in national liberal arts colleges (tie), 141st in top performers in social mobility (tie), 157th in best undergraduate engineering programs (tie).

Franklin & Marshall College: 75 rating, 43rd in national liberal arts colleges, 26th in best undergraduate teaching (tie), 29th in most innovative schools (tie), 34th in best value schools, 37th in undergraduate research/creative projects, (tie) 123rd in top performers on social mobility (tie).

Millersville University: 49 rating, 96th in regional universities in the North (tie), 29th in top public schools (tie), 144th in top performers on social mobility (tie).

Lancaster Bible College: rated in bottom 25%, 136 to 176 in regional universities in the North, 80th in top performers on social mobility (tie).