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Duke drops to No. 5 in U.S. News rankings

Duke slipped one notch in this year's U.S. News and World Report college rankings, placing fifth but remaining tied with the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had been lumped in with that group last year, stayed at fourth and pushed the others down. Harvard University joined Princeton University at number one after finishing tied with Yale University last year as runner-up.

Provost Peter Lange welcomed Duke's high ranking but urged prospective students to use caution in interpreting the U.S. News survey.

"This is wonderful recognition for our faculty, programs and students, who are arriving back on campus to begin a new semester," he said. "As much as we welcome such news, we recognize the limitations of these kinds of surveys and urge high school students and their families to use them as only one factor in deciding where to apply to college. So much about a university experience is difficult to quantify, and every student needs to decide which university is right for him or her."

U.S. News worked to refine its ranking methodology this year. The rankings no longer factor in yield--the ratio of admits to applicants--which previously accounted for 1.5 percent of a school's ultimate rank. Getting rid of yield could have helped Duke, which has fewer students accept its offer of admission than other top-10 schools.

Duke was noted for five "programs to watch" by the magazine: first-year experiences, undergraduate research and creative projects, learning communities, study-abroad programs and writing in the disciplines.

Elsewhere in the state, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dropped a notch to 29th, and North Carolina State University was 84th, as U.S. News expanded its ranking beyond the top 50 for the first time.

In addition to the perennially popular U.S. News survey, another major player in the college prep business released its rankings this week. The Princeton Review's list of the top 20 colleges in 63 categories, ranging from academics to extracurriculars to quality of life, gave Duke more cause for celebration.

Duke made it onto seven lists, netting third place in "best overall academic experience for undergraduates." According to The Princeton Review, Duke is a "jock school" where "students pack the stadiums." Despite a "beautiful campus," "town-gown relations are strained," and there is "little race/class interaction." It is also among the "toughest [schools] to get into." Duke placed in the top 20 in all those categories.

Although Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said he did not give the Princeton Review rankings too much credibility because he did not believe them to be scientifically valid, he acknowledged he was "flattered" that Duke scored third in overall academics.

Moneta said the rankings should be seen as amusement only, not used as a guide for administrators.

"It's one of those things where no doubt every administrator says what I say [about the rankings lacking credibility], then peeks through their fingers at what their ranking is," he said. "There's no doubt that we talk about it, but I don't talk about it in the sense that 'That's the way we're going to measure our approach.' I don't use the rankings and I don't use the indices that they measure on in any way."

A significant change from recent years is that Duke is absent from the list of schools where "alternative lifestyles [are] not an alternative." Last year, Duke was eleventh in this category, which is set up as the converse of the "gay community accepted" category. The University topped the list in 1999.

"Duke has made strides in a number of areas since the 1999 number-one review and those strides have been made on every level," said Karen Krahulik, director of the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life. "Nearly every aspect of the University--from the president to administrators and faculty to straight students, gay students and all students in between--a number of people at Duke have been trying to make the campus more comfortable for people who practice an alternate way of living."

Although Krahulik, too, disparages the survey's statistical invalidity, she said it is important for the University to do well because prospective students pay close attention to the rankings.

"I know there are students who choose not to come to Duke because we've been on that list," she said. "My hope is more students who would choose an alternative lifestyle will see Duke as a comfortable place in which to make that choice."


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