Make a quick jump to the "U.S. News and World Report" website and you'll find that Brown has again secured itself the last position in the Ivy League, sixteenth overall among national universities. Perhaps it is time we threw out "In Deo Speramus" and replaced it with "Superati Vincimus": we win when we lose.
More students than I would have expected were gravely concerned with our position in the rankings. They analyze the formula, identify the "place we went wrong" and agitate for reform. They argue that the endowment is too small, our professors too poorly paid, our coffee too liberal and our aquatic facilities too absent. But the more Brunonians focus on statistics like our admissions rate and median SAT score, the more we will lose our ability to compete.
Our endowment is the smallest in the Ivy League, 26th in the country, and our endowment per student places us even lower, around 40th. But we are still able to compete when it comes to admissions. We attract better students than we should, and we owe everything to our curriculum.
Given the size of our endowment, financial aid and available resources, we should be fighting for students with UNC, Oberlin and Davidson. But instead, we wrangle with Stanford, Princeton and MIT.
A Revealed Preferences report in 2005 placed us at 7th in the nation. Revealed preferences are kind of like win-loss records for sports teams. They take the pool of students any given year who were admitted to two universities, say Brown and Washington University in St. Louis. Then, they track where students decided to go the most. If more of the students went to Brown, Brown wins and has a higher "revealed preference" than Wash. U.
Unlike acceptance and yield rates, revealed preferences cannot be "gamed" by admissions officers. The dirty truth is that sometimes admissions officers will deny students who are better qualified and more desirable because they are unlikely to attend - which would make the University's yield rate lower. Whether conscious of it or not, officers perform a delicate balancing act where they try to admit the best students that are also most likely to matriculate. High yield rates are desirable because rankings like the "U.S. News and World Report" emphasize them.
But revealed preferences can't be manipulated so easily. The student has already been accepted to both universities. The only assumption is the student will choose to go to the university they think is the best. Financial aid has an impact on these decisions. And this may help schools like Princeton who have the most competitive packages. But it does not explain why Brown is doing so well.
If you stop any Brown student on the street and ask them what differentiates Brown from its peer institutions, the answer will be almost uniformly consistent: "The New Curriculum." The most popular "Why I chose Brown" application essay topic is almost always our unique curriculum and it is what attracted so many students to this campus. The New Curriculum, and its emphasis on academic freedom and personal responsibility, binds Brunonians together. It is this shared piece of our identity that has made our campus extremely passionate about defending our unique education.
Any time a change to our curriculum is proposed, it is met with harsh resistance by many groups on campus. Sometimes, these small changes may seem inconsequential, like enforcing course prerequisites through Banner. But these decisions tangibly affect the way our curriculum operates, and so go to the very heart of what makes Brown, Brown. These decisions will affect our ability to attract the best students in the future. They will determine whether Brown will be able to continue competing at the top level of universities worldwide.
The world is much different today than it was a generation ago. Most of us will hold four or five careers over a lifetime, with little job security and more competition. Old industries are fast disappearing. Many of the jobs that we will have in fifteen years do not even exist today. Thus, the independence and responsibility our curriculum demands will only become more valuable as we move into a new age defined by connectivity.
Brown will never "out-Princeton" Princeton. Even if we focused exclusively on building our endowment and bolstering financial aid, we will not in a hundred years come close to matching our peers. We are already too far behind. But we do not need to compete with them financially in order to attract better students. If we want to continue to attract the best students, we must dedicate ourselves to modestly improving our resources while actively maintaining the New Curriculum.
We do not need to be at the top of the U.S. News and World Report to attract the best talent in the country. Changing the way we operate to better fit the formula would have the opposite of its intended effect. If we focus solely on playing catch-up with our endowment, we may rise in the rankings, but we will no longer be able to attract the best students.
The metrics we use to measure our progress have an effect on our goals. As long as we continue to create our own metrics instead of relying on external rankings, we can "out- Brown" Princeton, and force them to play catch-up with forty years of fine-tuning our curriculum.
Jake Heimark '10 reads revealed preference reports for fun.