Survey says: don't believe everything you read

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hooray for the annual Princeton Review College Survey. It's about as valid as those college football BCS rankings each fall.

But the survey is out, and this time it comes with both a pat on the back and a poke in the eye for DePauw University and the City of Greencastle.

If you think that means I don't place much stock in the annual survey, you're absolutely right, Mr. Obvious.

First of all, if you read the fine print in the news release or on the website, you will learn that the Princeton Review -- as Ivy League and winged-tipped-shoed as that may sound -- has absolutely nothing to do with Princeton University. The Princeton Review is essentially a test preparation, college admissions and student resources company that publishes and peddles the annual guidebook, "The Best 376 Colleges."

And the results of annual Princeton Review survey -- as much notoriety and media and Internet coverage as they always get -- are based on an incredibly small sample.

The 80-question survey asks students about their school's academics, administration, campus life, student body and themselves.

Nationally, 122,000 students are essentially asked for a satisfaction ranking about their college, and that total number is divided among the 376 schools. You have to question any methodology based on that few students. An average of 325 students per college are surveyed for results in 62 categories.

Or shall we say Top Party Schools and 61 other categories?

Release of the survey earlier this week immediately sparked 730 news items on Google. I would bet 710 of them were about the Top Party School list.

Everybody wrote about the party school angle. At Indiana University, the student newspaper pointed out that IU "fell to 16th" among party schools -- one spot below DePauw.

Now that's ridiculous. Have you ever been to Bloomington in the spring or fall? Especially during the Little 500? No party ever held at DePauw could hold a candle to that kind of campus-wide overindulgence.

Does DePauw have its share of parties? Certainly.

But if all 2,200 students in Greencastle were acting like liquored-up former Indianapolis Colts' placekickers, they would still be less disruptive than 30,000 revelers at IU.

Overall, DePauw is ranked in the top 20 in six categories in the 2011 survey that is part of the 2012 edition of "The Best 376 Colleges."

The good news is radio station WGRE (91.5 FM) is ranked as the No. 2 college radio station in all the land, behind only St. Bonaventure's station.

That's great. WGRE does some nice things here. Always has.

But seriously, second-best in the whole country? All that really means is that virtually every DePauw student who responded to the survey showed great pride and satisfaction in WGRE as their radio station of choice.

DePauw was ranked sixth in Fraternity and Sorority Scene. Vanderbilt rules that roost, which is somewhat understandable, but No. 2 is Transylvania University. Who's voting there, Dracula and his crypt-kicking pals?

Greencastle takes its lumps in the town-and-gown categories. DePauw/Greencastle rank 11th in the strained relations category. That's a ranking in which Notre Dame/South Bend is eighth and Duke/Durham, N.C., tops the worst list. Really?!?

All of those pairings also appear in the College Town Not So Great rankings as well. While DePauw and Greencastle are 16th, Notre Dame and South Bend are fifth and the Dukies voted Durham No. 20.

Town-and-gown relations locally are probably as good as they have been in 30 years or more. From where I sit, the Princeton Review vote merely indicates prevailing unfounded stereotypes and little actual field experience into the matter.

Lots of Beer is the final category in which DePauw finds itself rated -- No. 19 on the list. From my experience, I have seen more students buying wine coolers than beer around Greencastle.

Before I forget, I will save you from looking up that much-anticipated annual Top Party School list. For better or worse, here it is:

1. Ohio University, Athens.

2. University of Georgia, Athens.

3. University of Mississippi, Oxford.

4. University of Iowa, Iowa City.

5. University of California-Santa Barbara.

6. West Virginia University, Morgantown.

7. Penn State University, University Park.

8. Florida State University, Tallahassee.

9. University of Florida, Gainesville.

10. University of Texas, Austin.

11. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

12. Syracuse University, N.Y.

13. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

14. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

15. DePauw University.

16. Indiana University, Bloomington.

17. Arizona State University, Tempe.

18. University of Maryland, College Park.

19. University of Vermont, Burlington.

20. University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Other No. 1 rankings in the survey include:

* Best Administered College -- Washington University in St. Louis.

* Best Career Services -- University of Florida.

* Best Health Services -- UCLA.

* Most Conservative Students -- Hillsdale College (Mich.).

* Most Liberal Students -- Macalester College (Minn.).

* Most Politically Active Students -- George Washington University (D.C.).

* Least Religious Students -- Bennington College (Vt.)

* Happiest Students -- Rice University (Texas).

* Lots of Race/Class Interaction -- Loyola University-New Orleans.

* Gay and Lesbian Friendly -- New York University.

* Best Town-Gown Relations -- Clemson University (S.C.).

* Top Stone-Cold Sober School -- Brigham Young University (Utah).

* Everyone Plays Intramural Sports -- Penn State University.

* Students Pack the Stadium -- University of Notre Dame.

* Best Athletic Facilities -- Georgia Institute of Technology.

Another reason to put little stock in this Princeton Review stuff is the ranking of Wabash College as fourth in the Best Athletic Facilities list -- after all, that's one spot above The Ohio State University.

At face value, that means Wabash has better athletic facilities than 372 other schools in the book.

If you believe that, I've got beachfront property in Bainbridge and a Greencastle Applebee's franchise I'd like to sell you.