Bates is still one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2008 on newsstands Monday.

The Lewiston institution is singled out for being among schools whose graduates have the least debt, for being a good value and for having students who volunteer in the community.

Those good marks might come to an end.

Despite the accolades, the college is weighing whether to take part in next year’s survey and whether to publicize other, similar rankings. Spokesman Bryan McNulty said Friday that both issues are under review at the school.

“By participating, you are … perhaps giving an endorsement to a methodology that might not be helpful,” McNulty said. “I expect that I won’t be publicizing any of the college guide results on the Web site pending that full discussion and decision.”

It’s understandable why people look to rankings, he said. College is expensive. Bates belongs to the Annapolis Group, a collection of colleges looking into alternative comparisons.

U.S. News & World Report uses up to 15 academic measures to come up with its ranks. One-quarter of each college’s score depends on peer review.

The University of Maine at Farmington, which believes in the Annapolis philosophy, won’t fill out that section of the survey in the future, spokeswoman Jennifer Eriksen said.

“In a lot of cases, I would imagine (school officials) are ranking institutions they have no knowledge of,” she said.

UMF will continue to answer all other parts of the survey.

“We believe it’s been helpful for a lot of families,” Eriksen said, one tool among many when considering a school.

In only a small number of cases do potential students say they called because of a ranking, UMF Director of Admissions Brandon Lagana said.

“We do know being listed in the rankings does put you on the radar in ways other things don’t,” he said.

The potential downside: “People begin to use that as the end-all and be-all of how to do a college search.”

The national rankings of Maine liberal arts colleges changed little from last year. Bowdoin College stayed at seven, Colby moved from 20 to 22 and Bates from 23 to 24.

“We’re right around where we have been for most of 25 years,” McNulty said.

Among the best schools offering baccalaureate degrees in the north – colleges that don’t focus on liberal arts but can offer them – Maine Maritime Academy in Castine ranked 14th and UMF 17th, two ticks up from its rank last year.

The University of New England in Biddeford was ranked 67th best among schools that grant master’s degrees in the north. St. Joseph’s College in Standish was 80th on the same list.


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