UI ranked as fourth-best party school
URBANA — As rankings go, this is one top-20 list the University of Illinois is never eager to crack — from an administrator's viewpoint, anyway.
The UI's Urbana-Champaign campus is listed as the fourth-best "party school" in the country — up from 11th last year — in the latest rankings from The Princeton Review, the college testing service.
Among Big Ten schools, only the University of Iowa finished ahead of the UI, in second place. Penn State University ranked 11th, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison was 13th. West Virginia University topped the list for the third time (also 2007 and 1997), and Ohio University slipped from first to third.
The current rankings are in the 2013 edition of "The Best 377 Colleges," which went on sale Tuesday. There are 62 "Top 20" ranking lists, each based on surveys of 122,000 students during the last school year.
Students answered 80 questions about academics, administration, campus life, the student body and themselves.
UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler dismissed the rankings, noting that they're based on student opinion and could be manipulated easily by large numbers of students voting on the company's website.
"It's not scientific at all," she said.
Kaler said UI students learn about alcohol abuse and watch safety presentations during orientation and other campus programs. But national data show that even students who understand all the dangers, whether it's walking alone at night or drinking or smoking, will sometimes experiment with those behaviors, she said.
"Anytime you have a population of kids who are in the 18-to-22 age range and on their own for the first time, you're going to have issues with them experimenting with alcohol," Kaler said. "The bulk of our students are very serious, work very hard, and don't participate in drinking as their prime activity here."
Robert Franek, the book's author and a senior vice president at the Princeton Review, is accustomed to criticism from schools included on the "less coveted lists" such as party schools.
He said students can fill out only one survey per academic year and have to use their ".edu" email address, which is then confirmed by an independent company that ensures the user is an actual student at that school. The user is also sent a confirmation email and asked to validate the survey results, and that's what is used in the rankings, he said.
Franek said the "party school" ranking is based on five questions, asking students to rate their campus on the consumption of hard liquor, consumption of beer, consumption of drugs, hours of study spent outside the classroom each day, and the popularity of sororities and fraternities.
The UI was No. 3 for Greek life, eighth for beer-drinking and 14th for hard-liquor consumption. In other top 20 rankings, the UI rated second in a category called "professors get low marks," and 17th for "least accessible professors."
But Franek noted the UI also ranked No. 9 for "best athletic facilities," was among schools saluted for sustainability, and was one of only 150 schools included in a "best value colleges" book.
Kaler said a Big Ten school is always high on the party list, because students tend to compete to grab the top spot.
For students, she said, "that's kind of a badge of honor to make a list like that. But I don't think it's helpful, and it would be nice if we didn't have it."
Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, a drinking holiday not condoned by the university, is a likely factor in the ranking, she said.
UI senior David Pileski, student trustee for the Urbana campus, said the Big Ten's party reputation has more to do with those schools being located in mid-size college towns, rather than larger urban areas where students wouldn't feel as safe.
Pileski said he wouldn't necessarily rank the UI among the top 20 party schools, placing Penn State, Iowa, the University of Michigan and Ohio State University ahead of the UI. But he finds the rankings "fun and interesting."
"It's good to see there's some students who feel really proud of Illinois, no matter what reason it is," Pileski said.
Students reporting the highest overall satisfaction with their school are at California's Claremont McKenna College.
Some of the other "bests" in the eyes of students include:
— Most Beautiful Campus: Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla.
— Best Career Services: Northeastern University in Boston.
— Best Campus Food: Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
— Best College Dorms: Washington University in St. Louis.
— Happiest Students: Rice University in Houston.
— Best Athletic Facilities: U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
— Top Stone-Cold Sober Schools: Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
— Students Pack the Stadium: University of Notre Dame.
— Best Professors: Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y.
The lists are posted at http://www.PrincetonReview.com.