If you’re a college basketball fan, its no doubt that you know that Villanova University was the 2016 National Champion in the NCAA Men’s Final Four. I have no doubt that Villanova will see more applications for admission this year—from college basketball fans, for sure—because winning certainly helps to get out the good word about a university, especially when it has more games to air its commercials.
In prior years Villanova University used to finish first in another ranking: its class in the US News Best Colleges Guide. Villanova has been classified as a Regional University-North, the best school in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that grants few doctorates, although it has graduate programs in business, education, engineering, law and nursing, among other subjects. In most cases a regional school is one that largely draws its student body from the region where it is located. The vast majority of the alumni live and/or work in that region.
But in the 2017 US News Best Colleges Guide, Villanova was reclassified as a National Research University. Moved there, it ranked 50th, tied with Pepperdine, Penn State-University Park as well as the University of Florida. Villanova is now in the same group as not only state universities; it’s also ranked against Ivies and other private colleges that also grant advanced degrees. In prior years schools such as Boston College and Fordham were thought to be regional schools. Today both attract students from all over the US. These schools are recognized as National Research Universities. The people who put the US News guide together now think the same of Villanova.
Is this “good” or “bad” for Villanova?
It’s probably good.
Among religiously-affiliated National Research Universities, Villanova tied for fifth with Pepperdine behind Notre Dame (tied #15), Georgetown (tied #20), Wake Forest (tied #27) and Boston College (#31). That’s quite impressive considering that Villanova has a much lower endowment (just over $550 million) than all of them. Even Pepperdine, which has half as many undergraduates (3,500 vs. 7,000) as Villanova has over $200 million more in endowment resources, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Among other schools that are likely cross-shops, Villanova ranked below Lehigh University (#44) but well above Drexel (#96) and Temple (#118). Drexel has a larger endowment and grants a larger variety of degrees. Temple is cash-poorer in the endowment, but it is state-related and also far less expensive school that grants a larger variety of degrees than Villanova. Villanova also ranked ahead of George Washington University (#56) and Syracuse University (tied #60), both of which have more resources.
It’s pretty amazing that a school can be reclassified into a group whose members have far more resources, yet also be given serious respect from the peoples who decide the ranking.
Is Villanova then “as good” as Penn State and better than the universities that rank below?
It depends on what a college-bound student wants from a college.
There’s a much larger choice of majors at Penn State, including many that are not likely to ever be offered at Villanova. There’s also a public honors college that is among the best in its class. Penn State is in Central Pennsylvania, 90 minutes from Harrisburg, the nearest city. The Villanova campus is just a short train ride—there are two stations there—from Center City Philadelphia. Penn State has other campuses as well as an online university to take classes while taking an internship or at home for the summer. Villanova has one campus. Penn State is a “football school” that also has dominant women’s volleyball and fencing programs. Villanova is a “basketball school” that has also produced track and field Olympians. You can walk the Villanova campus end to end in less than a half hour. You won’t get a third of the way around Penn State in the same amount of time.
I have visited Villanova many times myself not only to tour but also to attend a regional college fair as well as sports events. If you were to ask me if it was a “good school,” I would say yes. The campus is very nice. The business, education and engineering programs are more personal and hands on than those you will find at a state school. Villanova students I have met are quite bright and motivated. The school has added housing, which solved a major problem of the past. The major downsides are the cost and limited resources for financial aid. There’s also a nickname “Villa no fun.” I’ll leave prospective students and parents the opportunity to discuss that with the students who are already there.
Villanova retains 95 percent of a freshman class, excellent for a National Research University, and reports a four-year graduation rate of 87 percent. This says a lot for the admissions office as well as Villanova students. To give perspective, Villanova has about the same number of undergraduates as Harvard, around 7,000 total, yet it has a slightly better graduation rate (87 percent to 86 percent). Villanova also has a better graduation rate (87 to 86 percent) than Duke, a far more selective school that’s had more success in men’s basketball.
This new ranking is a national coming out party for Villanova. Not only are the students and alumni more proud coming off a basketball championship; the admissions, career development and alumni offices get to boast that their university is more than “a Philadelphia college.” That may be the real win for the school.
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