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Chronicle Messages

Berry Ranked Among South's Best Liberal Arts Colleges for 13th Year
Winter 1999-2000
PDF Version

For the 13th year, U.S. News & World Report has placed Berry College on its list of best colleges. This year we are tied for second among regional colleges in the Southeast. Last year we were fourth. All of us enjoy the attention, even while recognizing that U.S. News & World Report is more interested in selling magazines than in making definitive judgments about the quality of colleges and universities.

There is another way to look at it. U.S. News does get certain things right. Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley are indeed among the best American universities. Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore head the national list of the best small colleges. In all of these cases, knowledgeable observers recognize which ones belong in the top group. The unresolvable issue is who is number one, number 12, or even number 20.

Why should we care what magazines say about us? As one of Shakespeare's characters says, "reputation is ... oft got without merit, and lost without deserving."

Well, we do care about the connection between merit and reputation. It helps us if others agree we are strong in areas in which we think we are strong; and frankly, we benefit if people point out our weaknesses. Objective, detached judgments help us live up to our standards. U.S. News considers us a very good regional college in part because of certain key indicators, including the percentage of alumni who contribute to the annual fund, the student-faculty ratio, and our retention rates. Widespread alumni support is a sign that the college has done its job well, and that our graduates show their appreciation. Small classes impress people who rate colleges, as do high retention percentages. In past years, alumni support has been about 20 percent; retention of students from admission to graduation has been below 60 percent; and the ratio of students to faculty members, 15-1. We are showing improvements in all areas. Just this year, about 25 percent of our alumni made donations; the student-faculty ratio is now roughly 12-1; and we see early signs that increasing numbers of students are persisting to graduation.

We do not rely upon magazines to tell us how we are doing. Berry is evaluated every decade by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS, as the association is called, looks closely at all elements of the college and demands satisfactory compliance with hundreds of criteria that are spelled out in a long handbook. Satisfying SACS is no easy matter. Our Charter School of Education meets additional accreditation standards set by NCATE, a national accrediting body. Our renewal of NCATE accreditation is now in process. The Campbell School of Business also is seeking accreditation by the AACSB, the blue-ribbon accrediting agency for business schools. That initial accreditation is a four-year process. And our music program meets accreditation standards by the National Association of Schools of Music. None of these accrediting processes is automatic.

Each demands that we meet many requirements. And in each case, faculty members and administrators from other colleges make campus visits to see that we are living up to all that is expected of us. In addition to external evaluations, we also evaluate ourselves. Our office of institutional research relies upon a number of measurements, including standardized tests, comparisons to other good colleges, and various key indicators, to monitor our progress.

Perhaps the best validation of how well a college is doing comes from students and their parents. For the past decade, Berry has slowly grown in size while raising the standards for admission. We receive many applications -- over 2,000 -- for an entering freshman class of fewer than 500. The interest students show in us is a tremendous vote of confidence. We are now as large as we want to be, but we have not met all of our ambitions for quality.

Our reputation has not spread as far as we would like. Most of our students are from Georgia, and we are happy to have them. But we want to enroll larger numbers of students from other states, more from foreign countries, as well as achieve greater diversity in the student body. Students learn a great deal from one another, and a healthy mixture of backgrounds makes for a healthy learning environment. Moreover, with 82 percent Georgians, we compete with public colleges and universities where the very students we seek to recruit are eligible to receive full-tuition HOPE scholarships. Anything we charge -- and we remain a bargain -- seems expensive to those who pay merely room and board costs in state universities. Prudence demands we recruit larger numbers from elsewhere. Recruiting in other states and countries makes reputation all the more important. Students from far away places won't want to come here if they have never heard of us.

Therefore, I do indeed hope that we climb up the U.S. News & World Report rating system, and in the future, appear on the national and not merely the regional list. If U.S. News becomes aware that we are meeting our academic goals, then other people will also. The point is not to have our name in a national magazine. Our goal is to live up to our dreams for what Berry College can become.

Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President

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