"Princeton Review Gives UB Poor Marks in Academics, Quality of Life"
Unhappy students, an unsightly campus, dull and inaccessible professors and lackluster dorms - that is the picture of UB painted by Princeton Review's 2002 college rankings, released Aug. 20.
UB received the number one ranking for "Least Happy Students" and "Dorms Like Dungeons," and also appeared in the top five among schools surveyed for "Professors Suck All Life From Materials" and "Professors Make Themselves Scarce."
The rankings, compiled in Princeton Review's top-selling college guidebook, "The Best 331 Colleges," were distilled from the survey responses of 65,000 students at universities throughout the United States and Canada who rated their own institutions in 62 categories including academics, campus life and financial aid.
Each college included in the guidebook is given a score for its students' answers, which is then compared to other universities and ranked from 1 to 20. For example, the poor rating UB garnered for its residence halls "reflects a high degree of consensus that the dorms are not comfortable," said Erik Olson, an editor for the guidebook.
According to Olson, the Princeton Review sets up a "survey central" for one or two days in a "high-traffic location" - such as dining halls, the student union or the bookstore - on each campus surveyed.
Jessica Brand, a UB junior who manned UB's survey booth in the Student Union late last fall said the Princeton Review polled about 100 students from this university, "which is actually a good turnout for the Princeton Review."
As a percentage of UB's student population of 24,000, however - fewer than one half of one percent - the number is not quite as impressive.
Brand said the 73-question survey took approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete, which deterred many students from filling it out the despite the free Frisbees the Review offered in exchange for participation.
UB administrators and some students immediately criticized the Princeton Review survey for its scientific invalidity. Among other concerns, the company, known for its test preparation and admission services, did not attempt to compose a representative sample nor did they poll enough students for the results to be statistically significant, said critics of the rankings.
"I don't want to say that the answers they get are unimportant or uninformed, but they probably aren't representative of the entire student body," said Jeffrey Dutton, UB's assistant provost for institutional analysis.
"It depends who is coming through the union that day and what hours [the surveyors] are there," observed Geoffrey Testa, a senior physics major who called the rankings "ridiculous."
Provost Elizabeth Capaldi said it is unfortunate so many people purchase Princeton Review's book because "it rewards them for doing very unethical things." She maintains there are fact-based questions that could yield a more accurate representation of the universities.
"I would hate if parents or students actually used the information to influence their decision," Capaldi commented.
Many students agreed the results have factual foundations but UB is not as dire as the survey suggests.
"I think UB is not anywhere near as bad as the Princeton Review made us out to be," said SA Vice President Joshua Korman. "But with that said, there are a lot of things that UB could do better."
Olson is no stranger to criticism from university administrators, faculty and students, but remains unfazed.
"We absolutely stand behind our survey," he said.
Olson said the intent of the survey is not scientific validity, but rather to provide prospective college students and their parents with a "day-in-the-life" depiction of each school. He said the guidebook provides a substitute for visiting a campus, by revealing quality-of-life information that is often not readily available elsewhere.
"We never claimed this was a scientific survey," said Olson. "It's a qualitative survey."
"The choice to attend a college is not a scientific decision," he added.
UB conducts its own surveys to gauge student satisfaction. The university participates in a standard review of student opinion, administered by the American College Testing program and distributed to the SUNY centers (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook) every three years.
The ACT survey asks students to rate the quality of instruction: whether classes are stimulating and enjoyable, the degree of faculty preparation, instructor availability and faculty-student communication. According to Jeffrey Dutton, assistant provost for institutional analysis, "In the majority of those cases, UB fares equally to other university centers."
The study does not, however, compare UB with SUNY colleges or with universities outside the SUNY system.
UB also administers an alumni survey every four years. According to Vice President of Student Affairs Dennis Black, 84 percent of respondents rate UB as "good" or "excellent."
The most telling statistic, according to Dutton, is that 96 percent of alumni surveyed would recommend UB to a friend or a friend's child.
"I've only had a couple of professors that were exciting. In general, the professors are kind of boring," said Ryan Enser, a senior linguistics major.
Often, said Provost Capaldi, challenging course material comes across as uninteresting. "You have to face the facts that some of the classes are hard," she said. "That doesn't mean they can't be taught well [but] it's not supposed to be entertainment. It's a college education."
While some students described professors as inaccessible, others pointed out that in a large university establishing relationships with professors simply requires more effort.
"I think it's unfair to say professors are scarce simply because you don't take advantage of them," said Testa.
As for the charge that too many upper-level classes are taught by teaching assistants, only three percent of advanced courses at UB have a graduate assistant as the primary instructor. Even at the freshman level, the figure hovers around six percent.
"No one has ever said that to me or my staff," said Joseph Krakowiak, director of university residence halls. "It's the kind of expression you can use without having substance behind it."
Krakowiak described the university's 10-year, long-term plan for rehabilitation, which includes new roofs for the residence halls, replacement of the metal dorm-furniture with new wooden furniture, and new bathrooms in Ellicott.
Despite such improvements, the majority of students interviewed agreed that the dorms are sub-par. Students complained that the residence halls are small, poorly lit and dominated by institutional concrete.
"The dorms really did suck, I have to be honest," said Gerry Barry, a UB graduate and first year medical student. "It was all concrete."
"Ellicott looks kinda rough. It's dark and uninteresting," said Enser, "but I haven't been to dorms that look exciting."
Many students pointed out that happiness is difficult to quantify, and is often unrelated to administrative or academic policy.
"I think what made me the most upset was hearing that UB students are unhappy," said Melissa Paoletti, a master's student in foreign language education. "That is a very broad, general statement."
"I just think school is what you make it, whether as a grad or undergrad," she continued. "To expect a college or university to give you a perfect life is not right."
"My happiness has to do with so many different things that have nothing to do with school," said Barry. "But for a school, UB is pretty good."
"I was very, very unhappy here," Brand said of her freshman and sophomore years, "but I was living on South Campus, and now I'm in Hadley and I think it will be tolerable."
"When I actually came to this school I asked people what they thought of the school and whether they were having fun and nobody said they were unhappy," Brand added.
The complete rankings can be viewed on the Princeton Review's website, www.review.com.