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Dr. Popularity

Wheaton College President Ronald A. Crutcher talks about running a red-hot School, ignoring Sat scores, and cello practice at dawn.

(Dina Rudick / Globe Staff Photo)

Wheaton is rising in various college rankings. What's going on?

We were a women's college until 1988. [Crutcher became president in 2004.] Once we stabilized as a coed institution, it was time for the faculty to get back to what it had always done - transform the lives of students. Things have been percolating ever since. I think it is the quality of the engagement here between teachers and students that makes the difference. Last year, we had our third Rhodes scholar in six years.

And yet Wheaton doesn't require SAT scores for admissions? Why?

Higher education has tended to depend too much on data that doesn't tell you very much about students' overall potential for growth, development, and change.

What were your SAT scores?

It was like 1260 or 70. My GREs were 1380.

Early admissions. Harvard got rid of it; you have it.

We have it. At this point, I doubt we will be doing away with it.

Harvard's argument was that it cut down on diversity.

It may at Harvard. That hasn't been our experience at all.

There has been a lot of talk about "accountability" in higher education. US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently issued a report urging standardized testing in colleges.

I am a real proponent of accountability. But you have to first determine what are you accountable for. The Spellings commission tends to focus on testing for facts and information. Learning facts may be OK for a while, but what you really need to be able to do is to think critically, write well, have people skills, and, most importantly, learn how to be as flexible as possible.

Do you think Wheaton students are getting their money's worth?

I think they are here.

How much is tuition?

It is $43,000 [including room and board]. That is a concern of mine. Not so much the access of getting in, but the access of being able to afford to pay for it. Realistically, the problem isn't for students who come from impoverished families. You can cobble together money to help that student. It is the middle-class families who are hurt the most. They're squeezed.

You've played cello since you were a child and have had a distinguished career as a classical musician alongside your college career. It must be hard finding time to play.

When I took my first administrative position, I made a pledge to myself that any time my work as an administrator got in the way of playing the cello, I would stop. So I get up at 4:30 in the morning to practice. I still perform with an international trio. When I go to England to perform, I go at spring break.

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