On the rise, but should we care?
Being entrenched in the maelstrom of improvements that VCU has undergone over the past few years has left me less surprised by our rise than most other people, but I’m still impressed.
The empty parking lots that once littered campus have been raised in favor of innovative residence halls and state-of-the-art classroom spaces. Administrative positions have been filled with individuals with progressive ideas regarding their department. Programs have been evaluated, revamped and bolstered.
It does not do, however, to delude ourselves by misinterpreting the U.S. News and World Report’s naming of VCU as 14th on the list of “Up and Coming” universities of the year. That’s a consolation prize. At 167th, we are still ranked fairly low nationally, even compared to other state schools. VCU is ranked below University of Virginia (23). Below William & Mary (32). Below Virginia Tech (69). Even below George Mason University (141 nationally and 6 in the “Up- and-Comer” rankings).
We’ve taken a step out of the shadow of obscurity, but still operate outside the realm of acclaim that other colleges, both private and public, rest within.
To make this ranking a reality, individuals, whether they be students, faculty, administrators or business associates, need to be appropriately critical of and challenge the status quo regarding VCU policies, practices and actions. By being evaluative of both our successes and our failures, entire departmental performances can be formulaically improved, successes can be repeated and mistakes avoided.
The report touches upon a number of great aspects about VCU, with some more admirable than others, but it is not a detailed analysis of what this university is, embodies or has the potential to be.
But, most importantly, we should decide whether the ranking even matter.
Should the progress we’ve experienced in recent years be measured solely against our own ambitions and designs? I do believe that statistical rankings, including graduation and acceptance rates, have value, but there is something to be said for striving to be the best university for VCU students, rather than the “best” university. There is exceptional regard to be held for a university that caters to their local consumers, both active (students) and passive (city residents) consumers.
We can and should consider focus on creating a faux self-sustaining university, an institution that constantly and consistently feeds back into the system and environment that feeds it, in an academic and economic manner.
Either way, it does not do to dwell on dreams. Lofty goals might lead us to upsurging in the rankings and topping even state competitors. Local, attainable goals with concrete steps, such as our VCU 2020 plan and the Quest for Distinction, however, allow the university to make a greater mark on the world. Our goals allow for measurable progress in line with the more abstract, or less controllable, desires we might simultaneously seek, such as obtaining higher quality students, fostering noteworthy student organizations or creating a more amicable area surrounding campus.
At the end of the day, our ranking matters only to the exterior world, including future employers and prospective students; it is not an accurate measure of our success, achievements and viability.
Recognize the ranking as such and until the time the exterior world re-evaluates our ranking as more favorable than it currently resides, allow your individual merits, successes and academic achievements to guide your path out of the university.