From upright to outright rank College: Controversial Princeton Review grades schools based on what they bring to the party.

August 26, 1998|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

So the quirky Princeton Review guidebook to customer satisfaction among U.S. college students is out, and it finds St. John's College in Annapolis comes out tops in distaste for the food served on campus.

You could say that when tuition is more than $20,000 a year, students have a right to expect their money's worth. But college student who can't find a good meal in Annapolis probably needs a remedial course in eating even if he or she has read all The Great Books in the program.

More happily for the administration, the school ranks No. 5 in good teaching, No. 4 in accessibility of professors and No. 3 in class discussion, according to "The Princeton Review's Best 311 Colleges," just published by Random House.

Often irritating to college officialdom and amusing to students, the Princeton Review likes to think of itself as the Consumer Reports of academia. The review, a New York City-based student services company that has no relation to the university, asked 56,000 students to rate 311 colleges on everything from academics to marijuana use. The review claims to be the country's largest ongoing poll of college students.

Unsurprising for a college with a humane, liberal arts tradition, St. John's turns out to be tolerant of gays (No. 5). But then again, St. John's doesn't show up in the category of "Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, clove-smoking vegetarians," where Reed College, a small, independent college in Portland, Ore., leads the nation.

Reed College also has the best academics and professors, beating out Princeton (the university), Swarthmore College, Williams College and Harvey Mudd College, among 306 others.

But across King George Street from St. John's, students at the U.S. Naval Academy are ranked most likely to be "future Rotarians [or] Daughters of the American Revolution," just ahead of Brigham Young University in Utah, where the kids are the most sober and the least likely to inhale.

The students at the Naval Academy are also among "most nostalgic for Ronald Reagan," but not as nostalgic as the Mormons at Brigham Young, who are No. 2 in the nation behind staunch Grove City College, a small Presbyterian college with strong Christian values in Grove City, Pa.

But never fear, the students most nostalgic for George McGovern are not at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They're at Hampshire College, the Amherst, Mass., college where filmmaker Ken Burns went to school.

The Naval Academy pops up in several other of the review's lists. It's No. 1 in "town-gown" relations. But perhaps that's not surprising in a town full of retired admirals and captains and various other academy alumni.

Students think the academy is among the toughest schools to get into (No. 7), and once in, "students never stop studying." The U.S. Military Academy is rated slightly harder to get into at No. 6. Harvard and Radcliffe are first. But West Point doesn't make the top 10 in studying; interestingly, the Maryland Institute, College of Art, does. It's 10th.

The Naval Academy ranks No. 3 among "stone-cold sober schools," once again a couple slots behind BYU and just ahead of Grove City. But sadly, they're rated among the least happy students, coming in at No. 10 in the nation. At the alma mater of this reporter, Temple University, student are apparently even more unhappy in eighth place. The cadets at the Military Academy think their school "runs like butter," the best in the nation.

The most happy students are at Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Va., helped along no doubt by lots of beer (No. 2) and hard liquor (No. 1) and the most lively fraternity and sorority scene in the nation (again No. 1). Still, the happy life at Washington and Lee also offers one of the 10th "best academic experiences for undergraduates."

But Washington and Lee is not the leading party school. Neither is the University of California-Santa Cruz, although UCSC ranks first in "reefer madness."

The hallowed title of top party school goes to the State University of New York at Albany, plus a No. 5 ranking on the list "their students almost never study."

No Maryland school is even in the running. Loyola maybe gets closest with a high rating (fourth) for having "dorms like palaces." Loyola also places in the top 20 for availability of beer and liquor.

The party-school title has easily been the most controversial among the Princeton Review's 60 lists. Schools are irritated when they make the party list -- and when they don't. There's even a Doonesbury cartoon on the subject. But, says the review's Web site statement: "Many incorrectly assume that an institution that shows up on the party list is a lousy college to attend."

Schools that have placed at the top of the party ranking in the past five years, the review says, "are excellent places to pursue one's college career, and offer not only an exuberant social atmosphere but also a wide range of high-quality academic programs."

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