The Princeton Review named the University of Montana this month among the best 15 percent of the 2,000 colleges and universities that it tracks, with high marks from students and strong academics.
“You’re never ‘just a number’ here,” said the Princeton Review of UM.
Montana Tech in Butte landed on the list, too — and also shed its No. 1 rank last year on the list of “Least Happy Students.” It fell to No. 12 this year, albeit of the top-ranked schools.
Students at Montana Tech may be happier this year compared to last year, but there’s another possibility too, since surveys from schools are compared against other campuses.
“Or other schools are getting unhappier,” said co-author David Soto, director of content development for The Princeton Review, which has published its report for 26 years.
Head to Tennessee for the most cheer: Vanderbilt University has the happiest students of the best schools selected.
The Princeton Review collects data on more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities, and it based its rankings on 137,000 student surveys.
“We picked the 382 ‘best’ colleges for our book primarily for their outstanding academics: We highly recommend each one,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief, in a statement. “However, we know applicants need far more than an academic rating or ranking to find the college that will be best for them.”
So it also ranks the 382 based on other factors, such as campus culture and student life. This year, Montana Tech ranked on several arguably unenviable Top 20 lists:
- Least beautiful campus: 14
- Little race/class interaction: 14
- LGBTQ-Unfriendly: 16, and
- “This is a library?”: 17
Montana Tech did not comment on whether it is working to be more LGBTQ friendly or on other ratings. In a phone call, marketing director Amanda Badovinac said Provost Doug Abbott would comment on the survey outcomes; she subsequently requested questions via email, and the Missoulian submitted questions but did not receive a response by press time.
Nonetheless, Montana Tech is still getting high academic marks from the Princeton Review.
The review also suggests UM may be more politically sleepy than the frequent protests and marches and sit-ins on the Oval and across campus might suggest. The campus hit No. 4 on a list called “Election? What election?”
“That means there’s very low political awareness as rated by students,” Soto said.
It’s a hair more aware than last year, though, when it ranked No. 3 — or maybe other campuses are just that much less aware.
The Princeton Review’s description of UM’s student body highlights a mellow group of learners of the granola variety.
“The University of Montana attracts a student body that’s ‘pretty laid-back and easygoing,'” the narrative said. “Many are ‘outdoorsy’ and self-described as ‘hippies.’ Indeed, there are ‘quite a few granola kids’ and ‘Carhartt-sporting, plaid-proud, future biologist’ types.”
Those future biologists and other budding professionals appear to be in good hands at UM, too.
“While the university maintains a fantastic liberal arts program, students especially laud the wildlife biology, forestry, physical therapy, and forensic anthropology departments,” the report said. “Moreover, undergrads at Montana are highly complimentary of their teachers, who are generally ‘helpful, engaging, and accessible.'”
This school year, UM is losing some of those lauded teachers. An estimated 41 tenured or tenure-track faculty out of 552 won’t return this year, and UM recently gave notice to an estimated 40 lecturers that the school doesn’t have plans to rehire them in spring, although it isn’t clear how many lecturers will indeed be cut.
The Princeton Review closely follows faculty data, such as those who have doctorates and the numbers who work full-time and part-time, Soto said.
It gives schools an academic score from 68 to 99, and UM’s has fallen from 74 four years ago to 68 this year. The cuts may hurt UM’s ability to maintain or nudge up its score down the road.
“It is feasible that in the future, with cuts in faculty, that that academic rating, which uses a combination of student sentiment and school-reported data, could decline,” Soto said. “We could see it on both sides.”
However, UM also noted it was listed this year among the Princeton Review’s “Best Western” colleges and “Green Colleges.”
An average 358 students per college complete the survey, and 82 percent of surveyed students rate the narrative by the Princeton Review as “accurate” or “very accurate,” according to the organization.
Montana State University is not named in “The Best 382 Colleges: 2018 Edition.” Soto said that may be because the Princeton Review did not collect sufficient student sentiment, and it may be working with the administration to try to gather more information.
MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig could not be reached for comment via email.