Bay Area schools usually make the Top 10 when various rankings of the nation’s universities are published. However, when it comes to positive Jewish life on campus, only one Bay Area institution, Stanford University, cracked the Top 40 on a new list, while two others found themselves in the bottom 8 percent.
That’s according to the Forward’s College Guide, a first-time effort by the venerable New York-based Jewish newspaper the Forward in ranking what it termed simply “the best colleges for Jewish students.” Published Aug. 8, the guide uses complex formulas to “paint a real picture of Jewish life at 171 colleges and universities across the country.”
Assessing tuition costs, Jewish student population, Jewish studies options, presence of a Hillel and Jewish sororities and fraternities, kosher food availability, Israel programs and the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents and many other categories, the guide put Emory University, a private university in Atlanta, No. 1 on the list.
Closer to home, Stanford ranked No. 31, UC Berkeley was No. 44, UC Davis was No. 159 and UC Santa Cruz was No. 161, placing ahead of only 10 other schools. Neither San Francisco State University nor any other four-year colleges in the Bay Area were on the list.
Describing the methodology used, editor Laura Adkins said each school’s total points came from four different scores: Up to 40 points were given based on quality of Jewish life, up to 30 points for academic factors, up to 20 points for the vibrancy of an “Israel scene” on campus and up to 10 points for affordability.
Stanford earned 65 points, well behind the top three of Emory (85.3), University of Pennsylvania (84.3) and Washington University in St. Louis (80.5).
A bit further down the list, UC Berkeley had 61.3 points, and even further down, UC Davis had 30.8 and UC Santa Cruz had 30. The bottom three were Marquette University (24.2), DePaul University (22.5) and the University of New Hampshire (20.7).
Adkins and her colleague, Aiden Pink, “two young and valued members of our staff … whose own diplomas are as fresh as their memories,” the Forward wrote, “created and shaped” the list. “They spent months collecting data and crunching numbers, surveying campus professionals, and speaking to students, parents and alumni.” They also used the annual Hillel College Guide (which focuses on general statistics like percentage of Jewish students and includes extensive information about each school’s Hillel chapter), U.S. News & World Report, the Princeton Review and data from the Amcha Initiative, which tracks anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses.
The Forward also included several sub-categories, such as liberal arts, with Pomona College in Southern California placing No. 1 and no Bay Area schools showing up among those 37 ranked schools. UC Berkeley was No. 12 in the public schools category and Stanford was No. 25 in the private schools category.
One list ranked schools only in the West. UCLA was No. 1 followed by USC, Pomona, Stanford, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna, UC Berkeley, American Jewish University Los Angeles, Cal State Northridge and Caltech.
To get an idea of how the schools were ranked, consider the Israel category, which analyzed a school’s “average Birthright trip size, active Israel clubs across the political and ideological spectrums, Israel study abroad options, Israel studies programs, and the presence or absence of a formal BDS [boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel] resolution in the student government or in student referenda.”
Jewish life, perhaps the marquee category since a school could score as many as 40 points, focused on “the availability and diversity of Jewish institutions on campus, the presence of nearby synagogues (both for praying on High Holy Days away from home and for Sunday school jobs to make some extra money), active Jewish student clubs, attendance at Shabbat services, the presence of an eruv, the availability of kosher food, options for a Jewish studies degree, Jewish scholarships, Jewish Greek life, the size of the Jewish population and, of course, anti-Semitism.”
Since that category was viewed to be so important, the Forward did a breakout ranking titled “18 Best Colleges for Jewish Life.” Pennsylvania, with 37 points out of 40, nailed down the top spot, followed by Cornell (35.5), UCLA (35.2), Michigan (34) and Tulane (34). No Bay Area colleges made that list.
Despite the less-than-stellar rankings of our local institutions, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz each boast strong Hillel chapters, Jewish Greek life and Chabad houses, as well as world-class academics, according to the guide, which also noted that all four have ultimate Frisbee teams, as well.