St. Thomas makes list of most underrated colleges

Infographic by designer Kelly Olson
Infographic by designer Kelly Olson

St. Thomas tied for No. 41 out of the 50 most underrated colleges in America, according to a January ranking by Business Insider magazine.

The magazine’s designation of “underrated” colleges is based on rankings done by U.S. News and World Report and PayScale. The U.S. News rankings are based on undergraduate academic reputation, student retention, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rate. That ranking is then compared to PayScale’s ranking, which is based on the average mid-career salary of the school’s graduates.

The Business Insider article references St. Thomas’ study abroad program as one factor that sets the university apart from other schools. According to Study Abroad Director Sarah Spencer, St. Thomas ranks in the top 10 schools nationally for the percentage of undergraduate students who study abroad before graduation.

“There’s a lot of good data that shows that students that have a global experience and can describe what they learned during that international, intercultural experience have a competitive advantage in the job market,” Spencer said.

St. Thomas was the only Minnesota school designated as underrated. The ranking tied St. Thomas with the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma), Stonehill College (Massachusetts), Westmont College (California) and Auburn University (Alabama).

Although the ranking can be seen as positive, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Kris Roach said there are different viewpoints on whether the rankings truly capture the essence of the college experience.

“There’s so much press right now on the value of an education. People are looking for that outcome information. If I make this investment, what am I going to get out of it? And I think these types of surveys point to one measure of value,” Roach said. “There are lots of people who think there are other ways to value a private college education.”

Roach also said there are certain values of a private education that cannot be captured by a survey.

“At a place like St. Thomas, where you are required to take theology and philosophy, there is something positive that happens to you as a person when you have to look inside and wrestle with those issues. No one telling you what to believe or how to believe but pushing you,” Roach said. “There’s an intrinsic value that I don’t personally think any ranking captures.”

Though some aspects of the college experience are difficult to quantify, some students, such as freshman Destynee Wendt, find the rankings useful.

“I want to know how much I’m going to make when I’m older. I don’t want to waste all this money going to college and only make $40,000 a year,” Wendt said.

Spencer also sees some value in rankings but urges caution with how much stock prospective students put in them.

“You always have to look at all of these rankings and understand their criteria and how they’re measuring St. Thomas against a number of other wonderful schools and institutions,” Spencer said. “What’s most important though is that St. Thomas is receiving national recognition and visibility for the great institution that it is.”

Roach agreed, stressing a potential increase in notoriety for the university.

“No press is bad press, right?” Roach said. “If this causes one more person or five more people to take a deeper look at St. Thomas, that’s a good thing.”

Zach Neubauer can be reached at