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Message from Chancellor Nancy Cantor

September 13, 2011

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Thoughts from Chancellor Cantor on College Rankings

As U.S. News & World Report issues its newest rankings, in which SU’s “score” increased somewhat over last year and its “ranking” decreased, we are reminded not only of the volatility and mystery surrounding these magazine rankings, but much more importantly of the ways in which the rankings simply don’t begin to comprehensively capture the strategic directions that are establishing our institution’s secure foothold in what is often referred to as a “new normal” world.  The world in which our students are growing up is increasingly defined by population growth in geographic regions well beyond the northeast, by an ever-more diverse and trans-national college-going cohort, and by the pressure on families (frankly all across the income spectrum) to afford private college tuition and costs. 

Our strategy is to be right there in this new landscape, expanding our reach at a time when we believe universities need to look outward and engage. We do that in our scholarship worldwide and as an anchor institution in our community, and we are doing it by focusing on reaching the students of tomorrow.  And we are succeeding – with or without the imprimatur of popular magazine rankings.  Our applicant pools for the last several years have been at record high numbers, and we have surpassed our enrollment targets in each of those years, resulting in a high-quality geographically, socio-economically, and racially diverse student body, establishing SU as a place in tune with the world. We believe strongly in “education for the world, in the world,” and that world starts right here on our campus in Syracuse, N.Y. 

To bring that world to Syracuse, we are vigorously expanding our admissions base to reach the best students in growing population centers such as the southwest, southeast, and west coast – places where SU alums are coming out in record numbers to build our “geographies of opportunity” for SU.  We are creating seamless K-12 talent pipelines such as Say Yes to Education, and innovative “2+2” partnerships with community colleges across the country, which are building new pathways of opportunity for terrific students who have the resolve to pursue higher education sometimes against the odds. We are redoubling our commitment to providing need-based financial aid to a wide range of families feeling the pressure of our country’s economic instability. All of these efforts, taken together, are securing Syracuse University’s position in the world, just as Chancellor Tolley did so many years ago, as SU tripled its enrollment literally overnight to lead the way in recruiting post World War II veterans.  While we aren’t planning to triple our enrollment, we are following this hallowed tradition, both in our specific embrace of post-9/11 veterans, and in our wider embrace of hard-working, entrepreneurial students ready to engage the world and to make a difference for us all.  

How, then, does this relate to the annual ritual of US News and other rankings?  Unfortunately in our view, most if not all of the metrics emphasized (even lionized) in these rankings stand fully to the side of (and sometimes directly in conflict with) the efforts that SU and other colleges and universities are embracing to be places of opportunity that optimize impact and reach and thus serve our nation’s future.  At the very moment, when voices are being raised all across our country to ensure our national competitiveness by educating the broadest, most diverse population we’ve ever had, US News rewards institutions for the number of students whom they can reject, not for whom they reach; for keeping their student bodies small and select; for using merit aid to recruit the highest SAT students, by necessity missing some students whose toughness and resolve will serve them and us well in the test of time.   

While these rankings and the narrow set of metrics they value may sell magazines, we at SU do not believe that they represent the best and brightest hope for higher education’s role in forging a better future.  Apparently, there are many students and their families who agree with us, and the newest cohort of faculty leaders, some 250 new faculty recruited to SU in the last three years, agree as well.  We are happy to say that with the unprecedented support of our alumni and friends in our largest ever capital campaign and our many corporate and community partners, we know that we can welcome these students and faculty to an institution that is in step with the world, striving to be of the world and in the world, making a genuine difference.   

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