About the Numbers, Part 2: Curriculum Matters

In previous posts we have discussed the absence of a significant correlation between U.S. News rankings and the number of prestigious scholarships awarded to the public universities that make up the Fifty we are reviewing. While it is true that many public “elites” such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan–all ranked highly in U.S. News rankings–have a high number of students who have won prestigious scholarships, the overall correlation between the rankings of the Fifty and the number of scholarships is quite low.

But as a part of our work, we have analyzed the total curriculum requirements for honors completion of the Fifty, and when the curriculum requirement as a percentage of all hours required for graduation is calculated, we have our “curriculum metric.” When this metric is compared to our metric for prestigious scholarships, we find a significant correlation.

Many universities that, as a whole, are ranked lower than 100 by U.S. News in the national university category, over-perform to a remarkable extent in the attainment of prestigious scholarships, and that over-performance is strongly linked to a higher percentage of credits required for honors completion.

One example is a university whose U.S. News rank places it at number 43 among our Fifty, but with a curriculum requirement ranking number one among the Fifty for honors completion, the university’s prestigious scholarship attainment places it at number 24 among the Fifty, above the median.

Another example is a university that ranks 48 among the Fifty based on U.S. News rankings, but because of a strong curriculum, the school’s attainment of prestigious scholarships places it at number 13 among the Fifty.

On the other hand, a university ranked near the top of our Fifty according to U.S. News comes in last in the number of prestigious scholarships. The university has a limited honors curriculum requirement.

Of course there are exceptions, but the clear statistical message is that curriculum really matters when it comes to attaining the most impressive honors of all.

College or Program of the Week: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Students who want the combination of flexibility and rigorous study should consider the University Honors College at Pitt. Students receive an invitation with an SAT score of 1400 or higher, seeming to make Pitt Honors one of the more selective programs; but students who do not score 1400 may also participate, if they show promise. UHC students are allowed to fashion their own curriculum within broad parameters, subject to approval by the college.

Many students choose to pursue double majors, although the honors requirement is that each major be in a different school. For example, a major in English in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences could be combined with a major in management from the College of Business Administration, but a double major of English and history would not meet the requirement, as both disciplines are within the school of arts and sciences. Students may, however, meet the honors requirement with a triple major within the same school.

One outstanding example is Cory J. Rodgers, recently selected as a Rhodes Scholar from Pitt. A student in University Honors College and Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Cory will earn a B.Phil degree in Africana studies and in the history and philosophy of science as well as a Dietrich School BS degree in biological sciences with a minor in chemistry.

The final challenge for all honors students is to complete a research program, culminating in an honors thesis. Students must then defend the thesis before a panel that includes one external panelist from another university. Students earn a B.Phil degree, awarded by the University Honors College. The B.Phil is almost unique in the United States; the University of Oxford also awards the degree.

About 400 entering freshmen can be accommodated in Sutherland Hall. After the freshman year, students have the option of several living-learning communities. Research and travel opportunities are coordinated by the college.

One of the most interesting aspects of Pitt Honors is that the honors college sponsors not one but four publications: Collision Magazine features undergraduate non-fiction and poetry; the Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review publishes scholarly articles from undergraduates from across the U.S.; the Three Rivers Review publishes literature written by undergraduates from any of Pitt’s colleges and schools; and the Pitt Political Review is an outlet for spirited political analysis and discussion. Students serve as editors of all four publications.

About the Numbers, Part 1

We have collected a lot of data, some of which has been through two or three rounds of number crunching. From time to time, we will have posts in our “About the Numbers” series that will inform our readers about some of our preliminary findings. For the most part, these posts will not contain lists or name individual universities, but simply report on some of the wonkier aspects of our project. Many of these reports will focus on university-wide data. Please remember that these data are primarily a framework in our overall evaluation of honors colleges and programs and are certainly not the only measures we will consider.

Today’s post will discuss the relationship of U.S. News rankings and BA to Ph.D. progression, on the one hand, to the number of prestigious scholarships awarded, on the other hand.

You might think there would be strong positive correlation and significance between a university’s U.S. News rank and the number of prestigious scholarships awarded to the university’s students. Nevertheless, the U.S. News rankings of the fifty universities we are reviewing do not appear to be significantly related to the number of prestigious scholarships awarded.

Of course there are some universities in our group that are highly rated and that do see a high percentage of their graduates winning prestigious awards; but as a group, there is little or no significant relationship between U.S. News rank and Goldwater, Rhodes, Udall, and Truman awards. There is, however, a significant relationship between U.S. News rank and the number of Fulbright awards, even after the Fulbright awards are adjusted for the size of each university’s undergraduate population.

Similarly, the number of Bachelor’s grads who proceed to earning a Ph.D. might seem to correlate significantly with prestigious awards; but, again, the only significant correlation is with Fulbright awards.

Finally, awards to faculty and faculty membership in national academies correlate significantly to U.S. News and to BA to Ph.D. progression, but not to prestigious scholarships, except, again, to Fulbright awards.

So, with respect to our “Fifty,” factors other than U.S. News rank, faculty awards, and BA to Ph.D. progression contribute more significantly to the number of prestigious scholarships awarded. These other “excellence factors” may well include effective honors programs.

Study Abroad Data, by University

There are at least three ways to analyze these data: raw numbers; raw numbers adjusted for number of bachelor’s degree recipients; and raw numbers adjusted for size of undergraduate enrollment. Tell us which measure you think is best. The list below is based on raw numbers adjusted for size of undergraduate enrollment. Only universities among the “Fifty” are included. Please be aware that this information is unlikely to be included in this form in our upcoming guidebook.

1. Virginia, 2. UCLA, 3. Delaware, 4. Georgia Tech, 5. Georgia,

6. Washington, 7. North Carolina, 8. Michigan, 9. Vermont, 10. Wisconsin,

11. Arizona, 12. Indiana, 13. Kansas, 14. Minnesota, 15. Iowa.

If we had adjusted for the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded instead of undergraduate enrollment size, Georgia Tech, Delaware, and Vermont would likely hold the top three spots.

BA to Ph.D. Is this a Significant Metric for Honors?

The short answer is that we do not know yet. But while we’re crunching all sorts of numbers, we thought we would share some of the data that may–or may not–be considered in our upcoming review. We are, remember, college junkies at heart. The data we collect will not in the end have much or anything to do with the guidebook unless it passes statistical muster (correlation, multiple regression analysis, significance). In the meantime, we will share some of that data.

If you would like to tell us what you think about the relevance of each “metric,” please post a reply or contact editor@publicuniversityhonors.com.

A scaled analysis of the “Fifty” shows that the universities listed below have the highest percentages of students who proceed from a BA to a Ph.D.

1. Michigan, 2. Virginia, 3. UC San Diego, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Georgia Tech,

6. North Carolina, 7. UCLA, 8. UC Santa Barbara, 9. Florida, 10. Binghamton,

11. UT Austin, 12. UC Davis, 13., Penn State, 14. Pitt, 15. Maryland,

16. Delaware, 17., Iowa State, 18. Rutgers, 19. Virginia Tech, 20. Iowa.

Awards for Faculty, other than National Academy Membership

In addition to selection for membership in a prestigious national academy, faculty members may receive important awards from a variety of organizations. The Fulbright, Guggenheim, MacArthur, NEH, Woodrow Wilson, and National Medals of Science and Technology are perhaps the best-known of the more than twenty that are included in the figures below.

As was the case with national academy awards, the UC campuses again figured prominently in the category of individual awards. Raw numbers have been adjusted for the size of full-time faculty. Below is a list of the top twenty universities among the “Fifty” in our survey:

1. UC San Diego
2. Michigan
3. Pitt
4. Georgia Tech
5. North Carolina
6. UC Irvine
8. Washington
9. Virginia
10. Colorado
11. Stony Brook
12. Wisconsin
13. Maryland
14. Michigan State
15. UC Davis
16. Illinois
17. Rutgers
18. Georgia
19. South Carolina
20. Oregon

Please see a previous post on national academy membership, where an expanded list is now available.

Universities with Highest Percentage of National Academy Members

One accepted measure of faculty excellence is the number of faculty who are members of prestigious national academies, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineers. Many of the universities among the “Fifty” to be reviewed have had an impressive percentage of faculty members elected to these and other national academies. The UC campuses, in particular, have achieved great success in this area.

The leaders in our group are listed below. The data have been adjusted to show the number of awards based on the total number of full-time faculty members. Therefore, large universities do not receive disproportionate weight because of their larger faculties.

1. UC San Diego, significantly ahead of the rest.
3. Michigan
4. Washington
5. Wisconsin
6. Georgia Tech
7. UC Santa Barbara
8. UC Irvine
9. UT Austin
10. Virginia
11. Minnesota
12. Illinois
13. North Carolina
14. Pitt
15. Colorado
16. Maryland
17. Rutgers
18. UC Davis
19. Arizona
20. Iowa

Georgia Tech Honors

The young Georgia Tech Honors Program saw its first class graduate in 2010, and it was a class marked by excellence. Out of 55 students in the first class, 98 percent graduated with a 3.0 GPA or greater. Twelve students earned a 4.0 GPA, a remarkable accomplishment given the well-known difficulty of the university’s undergraduate programs, especially in the fields of technology and engineering. Some 89 percent of the graduates earned academic honors: 35 with highest honors; 7 with high honors; and 7 more with honors.

The early accomplishments of the program contributed to a remarkable increase in entrants for Fall of 2010. The program considered 2,000 applications, issued 309 invitations, and enrolled 113 new honors students. The program now uses admissions criteria that “rely less on numerical measures (e.g., GPA and SAT scores) but instead emphasize evidence of passion and success in areas of extracurricular life.”

Incoming freshmen live in Field Hall, near the football stadium and close to a dining hall used by all Georgia Tech students so that honors students will have frequent contact with both honors and non-honors students.

The core curriculum now features five courses, two in the first semester and three more during the second year or beyond. Honors students attend regular symposiums that feature Nobel laureates as well as the president of the university.

The Georgia Tech program will have a profile in the upcoming guidebook, but because of its recent arrival on the honors scene, it will not be compared to other programs.

Honors ‘Completers’ or Honors ‘Partials’?

Our thanks to Dr. Lynne Goodstein, who heads the honors program at the University of Connecticut, for educating us on the best way to analyze the graduation and retention rates of honors students.

As John Cosgrove wrote in “The Impact of Honors Programs on Undergraduate Academic Performance, Retention, and Graduation” (Journal of the NCHC Council, 2004), honors “completers,” those who go through the entire honors core curricula and additional requirements, graduated with an average GPA of 3.76. “Partial honors students” who left the honors programs before graduation but still earned a degree, had an average GPA of 3.48, only marginally better than the 3.36 GPA of high-ability students who never entered the honors programs.

Dr. Goodstein argued, correctly, that we should focus on the retention rates of honors completers, since their significantly stronger performance was a better indication of the effectiveness of honors programs. Honors completers are a relatively small percentage of all honors entrants; in the Cosgrove study, the percentage of completers was only 27 percent. Some studies show the percentage of honors completers may range from 18-30 percent.

Unfortunately, not all programs/colleges are able to provide statistics for honors completers, in part because of the difficulty in tracking honors entrants who begin a university-wide program and then move along to departmental programs.

Therefore, we have asked for retention rates after the first and second years of honors programs, as that two-year period includes at least what is typically the core curriculum requirements. (If universities choose to provide the rate for program completers, then please do so.)

We have asked for six-year graduation rates for students who enter honors programs as freshmen (please do not include later entrants). The six-year rate is necessary in order to compare honors-related graduation rates with those of the student body as a whole.

Ultimately, what we will publish will be a hybrid of completers and partials, because approximately 25 percent of freshmen honors entrants will become honors completers. This means that our reported graduation rates will reflect at least part of the completion effect that was demonstrated in Cosgrove’s study, although that effect will not be as specifically quantified as it was in the study, which was able to use GPA data.

USA Today Scholarships

Although they don’t carry the same level of financial reward that Udall and Goldwater Scholarships provide, the USA Today College Academic Team scholarships receive significant attention from a wide audience because of their association with the Gannett Corporation. The 2011 awards have not been announced, but below are some statistics for the last twenty years, not including 1995 and 1999. If you have data for those years, please let us know. If the figures below do not agree with your own, please let us know.

Total awards, by university among the “Fifty”:

Arizona State, 12
North Carolina, 7
Virginia Tech, 6
Alabama, Delaware, Georgia Tech, 5
Minnesota, Rutgers, UCLA, 4
Auburn, Illinois, Iowa, UC Irvine, 3
Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio State, Penn State, UC Davis, 2

The seventeen universities among the fifty with one winner are the following:
Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas, Michigan State, Nebraska, Missouri, Pitt, South Carolina, University at Buffalo, UT-Austin, Virginia, Washington State, and Wisconsin.