Forbes Magazine recently released their Special Report on America's Best Colleges and Williams College topped the list, rising from 4th place last year to the top spot. Rounding out this year's top five were:
2) Princeton University
3) Amherst College
4) United States Military Academy (West Point)
5) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Everyone associated with Williams - faculty, staff, administration, students, alums - should be proud of their achievement. It seems to me that recognition of this type can only lead to increased applications by prospective students as well as increased development opportunities.
As a local resident and business owner, I know that I benefit from Williams presence here in many different ways, not the least of which is their role as one of the area's largest employers. By and large they are fantastic neighbors. Folks like Gary Guerin, Harry Sheehy, George McCormack, and Mike Maker have always been tremendous about helping out the local youth sports organizations that I am involved with, including access to facilities and getting Williams' players and staff to help out.
There are however three specific areas where I would encourage Williams to evaluate their strategies. If incoming President Adam Falk is looking for some advice from the cheap seats, well, here goes:
1) Spending Locally - Does Williams do everything they can to support local businesses with their spending? Our local economy could certainly use the boost.
2) Civic Leadership - Does Williams take an active enough role in the direction of the town itself? I see senior leadership of institutions like The Clark, Mountain One, and NBH actively involved in the Chamber of Commerce, for example. Where is the top-level engagement by Williams?
3) Growth - Does Williams have to remain at just over 2,000 undergrads? Why not add programs and faculty and get to 2,500 or 3,000 students? The faculty/student ratio could be kept the same, so the education experience wouldn't change at all. The local economy would certainly benefit from a growing Williams - construction jobs, additional faculty and staff, etc. Our real estate market would certainly benefit from some increased demand.
The list of Williams alums who have gone on to become leaders in the world of business, the arts, politics ... every aspect of our nation ... is impressive. Williams certainly knows how to train the future leaders of our society. I for one would like to see the institution do more to step up to the bar and accept the mantle of responsibility for its true role here as the center of our local universe. Williams' impact doesn't end at the campus border. It is time their leadership stretched further beyond there, too.