Temple University Honors Program: Great Housing, Strong Curriculum

We are long overdue in writing a profile of the Temple University Honors College in Philadelphia, but what from what we have learned, we can say it is well worth writing about and considering as an honors option.

The college falls into our largest category, which includes programs with average SAT’s in the 1300’s.   The actual average score at Temple Honors College is 1334.  The college admits about 350 freshmen each year and has a total enrollment of 1,592, including some transfer students and non-freshman entrants.

As we have written in several profiles and in our book, we continue to believe that the quality and extent of the honors curriculum is the most important attribute of a program, not least because it provides a continuing focal point for honors contacts among students and faculty.

The Temple honors curriculum requires 10 honors courses and establishes yearly benchmarks that students must reach in order to avoid probation.   We believe this is an excellent policy, as it ensures the continuing involvement that sets the best honors programs apart from those that see students losing interest after the first year or two.

At the end of the freshman year, honors students must have completed at least three honors courses.  As sophomores, they must have completed six honors courses.  After their junior year, they must have at least eight honors courses under their belts and be able to work on honors projects, theses, and additional courses in the final year.

The other outstanding feature of the college is its living/learning community for honors students, the “1300” residence hall on the south side of campus.  The 1300 includes about 90 percent of freshman honors students, a very high percentage and one that likely contributes strongly to honors retention rates.

The 1300 is also outstanding because it houses more than 1,000 total honors students, including upperclassmen in apartment-type accommodations.  The other rooms are suites, and all are air-conditioned.   Many honors residence halls cannot house students across all four years, and most of those that do cannot match the amenities of 1300.

So along with Penn State Schreyer, Delaware, UMass Amherst, Pitt, and UConn honors, students in the northeast have another solid public option for honors education.

Apply as soon after January 1 as possible to be considered for the best scholarships, which are awarded by February 15.  The final application deadline for the university is March 1.

Kiplinger Best Value 2013 Plus Honors Value Added

Below is the most recent list of the honors programs that have the most value-added impact on their universities and that are within universities listed in the Kiplinger top 100 “Best Values In Public Colleges” report of 2013.

We estimate the honors impact by comparing the ranking of each university as a whole with our evaluation of the honors program.  If our ranking places an honors program or college higher than the national ranking of the university as a whole, then the honors program provides value added.

For example, if University A honors college ranks 24th in our evaluation of 50 programs and colleges, and the university as a whole ranks 34th among the 50 universities we considered in the U.S. News rankings, then University A’s honors college has significant value added.

The value-added programs that we are listing in this post are those at South Carolina,  Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan State, Delaware, Stony Brook, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Nebraska, and Indiana.  We will also note if their Kiplinger value is up from 2012, a difficult standard to meet, given the cuts to state schools and the resulting rise in tuition and student loans.

Congratulations to South Carolina, Stony Brook, Minnesota, Missouri, and Indiana for raising their average Kiplinger rankings in 2013 and for having value-added honors programs!

Since all of these universities are also included among the top 100 best values in the annual Kiplinger report, this means that the honors programs at these schools are a “value-added to the value-added” because the honors programs significantly enhance the value that already exists in the universities as a whole.

The annual Kiplinger special report is a well-known and influential publication. The report presents a cost/value analysis, comparing the academic reputation of selected public universities to the total net costs of attending, using both in-state and out-of-state tuition as benchmarks. Kiplinger begins with 500 public colleges and universities, eventually honoring the top 100 as best values.

Kiplinger does not directly consider the value added by public honors programs, although it is certain that the qualifications and achievements of honors students are an important contributor to a university’s academic excellence.

Below is the name of the university, its Kiplinger best value rankings for in-state and out-of-state tuition, and its honors program impact rank among the 50 leading state universities we reviewed. The lower the number in honors impact, the greater the value-added factor of the honors program.

University of South Carolina
In-state tuition (35); out-of-state tuition (50); honors impact rank (2).  Kiplinger average value is UP from 2102.

The University of Arkansas
In-state tuition (65); out-of state tuition (78); honors impact rank (3).

University of Georgia
In-state tuition (15); out-of-state tuition (24); honors impact rank (7).

Michigan State University
In-state tuition (46); out-of-state tuition (66); honors impact rank (7).

Stony Brook
In-state tuition (22); out-of-state tuition (9); honors impact rank (9).  Kiplinger value is UP from 2012.

University of Delaware
In-state tuition (29); out-of-state tuition (26); honors impact rank (10).

University of Minnesota
In-state tuition (45); out-of-state tuition (12); honors impact rank (11).  Kiplinger value is UP from 2012.

University of Missouri
In-state tuition (66); out-of-state tuition (74); honors impact rank (12). Kiplinger value is UP from 2012.

University of Oregon
In-state tuition (98); out-of-state tuition (99); honors impact rank (12).

University of Nebraska
In-state tuition (75); out-of-state tuition (87); honors impact rank (14).

Indiana University
In-state tuition (39); out-of-state tuition (64); honors impact rank (15). Kiplinger value is UP from 2012.

Florida History Faculty Fights to Sustain Liberal Arts

Note: This article by our editor, John Willingham, was originally published by the History News Network on December 21.

In Florida, a task force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott has proposed lower tuition rates for STEM majors, allegedly in the interest of the state’s economy, but many of the state’s historians see the plan for what it is—a threat to the humanities.

Historians from the University of Florida and supporters across the country have responded with a formal protest and a petition campaign in late November that so far has obtained more than 2,000 signatures.

“The punitive differential tuition model will lead not only to a decimation of the liberal arts in Florida,” the historians said in the petition. “It will also have a destructive impact on the essential and transferrable skills that these disciplines teach.”

On November 16, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin joined Scott in proposing state university performance measures to ensure that students are “getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us, or degrees that people want to give us?”

Disentangling what is merely unwise and superficial about these plans from some of the disturbing motives behind them would require an interdisciplinary panel including not only historians but political scientists, economists, philosophers, and, yes, scholars from the STEM disciplines that the plan enshrines.  But some very recent analyses of the Florida plan are an excellent place to begin.

An excellent article by Michael Vasquez in the Miami Herald on December 8 questions the extent of the demand for STEM grads as well as the notion that higher salaries will be their reward.  “Petroleum engineering majors are doing very well these days; biologists and chemists are not,” he writes.

And much of the demand in “strategic” fields comes from the healthcare industry, not from all of the STEM professions.  Vasquez writes that when healthcare was not counted, one recent report found that “Florida was one of six states with more unemployed STEM workers than available STEM jobs. Of those six states, Florida had the biggest oversupply of STEM workers.”

But is there any significant demand for liberal arts grads? Last year, Gov. Scott asked a business audience in Tallahassee a rhetorical question, well-reported in the Florida media: “Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t.”

Yet Vasquez tells us that a recent defense department study emphasized the need for sociology and anthropology graduates because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have “highlighted the importance of sociology and anthropology” and the nation should have an “ongoing investment” in both disciplines.

Taking a narrow view based on what appear to be the demands of the present, the task force and the governor are missing subtleties and unintended consequences, the latter among the strongest lessons of history.

One consequence of the recommendations that is neither subtle nor unintended is that even more funding will be taken from the humanities and flow to the so-called strategic areas.  The tuition paid by humanities students already provides an indirect subsidy to most STEM students because the cost to educate students in engineering, technology, and physics is greater than the cost of educating students in the humanities.

Some institutions actually charge more for some STEM majors because of the increased cost.  The task force was aware of this development, according to Vasquez, yet decided to elevate the indirect subsidy to a direct one, knowing that their action would be even more detrimental to the humanities and social sciences.

The Florida historians note that the Florida Council of 100, a non-partisan organization of business leaders formed more than 50 years ago, “submitted a lengthy memo to the task force in which the Council noted the pressing need for ‘liberal arts grads with superior analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills who can quickly learn and apply industry/company specific skills.”

Knowing that liberal arts grads were in demand and that the differential tuition plan would further diminish the presence of liberal arts disciplines, the task force nevertheless persisted.  And this is where the “disturbing motives” mentioned earlier come into play.

Gov. Scott’s mocking of anthropology as a discipline is but one indication of an intense war going on between the most extreme conservatives advocating higher education “reform” on one side, versus major public universities and thoughtful supporters, including many in the business community, on the other side.

Where the perceptive business and political leaders, Republican and Democrat, see the economic value of research, its interplay with the best instruction, and the power of the liberal arts to foster critical thinking skills, the extremists see wasteful spending, pampered professors who should be teaching more classes, and humanities professors threatening the status quo.

The intended consequences of the extremists are to reduce publically-funded universities to second- and third-rate training institutions, leaving the strongest students to seek the best education in private universities, which are held up as models of excellence and free-market efficiency.  Gutting the humanities in public universities will inevitably reduce their ability to maintain first-tier standing, and the best students will go elsewhere.

Readers who may question the use of the word “extremists” to describe these individuals should consider what Thomas Lindsay of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Rick Perry’s designated “think tank,” told the National Review, as reported on December 13: “The higher-ed establishment is an industry that is ripe for disruptive innovation, and that’s what’s happening,” Lindsay said.

It is this kind of “innovation” that came to such ripe fruition at the University of Virginia, where regents bedazzled by the trendiest terms coming out of business schools decided to bypass institutional history, collaborative change, and sound judgment to take a giant leap forward—only to make fools of themselves.

Sound judgment—its formation and use, its value in every part of life—is what is truly at stake in this serious battle over the future of public higher education.  Historians, perhaps better than most, recognize that understanding what has happened, its relation to the present, and its likely impact on the future requires above all things careful and thoughtful judgment, based on a wide spectrum of information.  The development of this enduring asset has long been the aim of the best universities.  While the task force claims to know what constitutes essential information, the liberal arts caution against such assumptions, aware that truth often emerges from sources unforeseen.

Lillian Guerra, one of the Florida professors challenging the task force, teaches Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida.  In an interview with Colleen Flaherty, writing for “Inside Higher Education,” Guerra noted that the “Cuban state in the [1960s and 1970s] began to promote technical fields and the hard sciences because those are the fields believed to generate wealth for the collective aspiration, as opposed to an individual meditation on ideas.”

If someone on the task force had bothered to talk to Guerra or had taken a course in her highly specialized field, they might have glimpsed a surprisingly relevant lesson arising from the dismal performance of the Cuban economy since the 1970s.  Nevertheless, the task force might still be excused if it simply acknowledged that no one can always predict where the best answers might come from.


Best Public University MBA Rankings: A Consensus Approach

John A. Byrne, who first developed a ranking system for business schools while he was at Business Week, now has a major (and very interesting) website that also provides rankings; this year he has adopted something resembling Nate Silver’s statistical tweaking of multiple polls in order to form a more comprehensive view of MBA programs.

Bryne incorporates rankings from Bloomberg Business Week, Forbes, U.S. News, The Financial Times, and The Economist to obtain his results.  One great thing about the Poets & Quants Best MBA Programs is that you can see the different rankings side by side along with Bryne’s results.

A special nod is due the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota: “Among the top 50 business schools, the big winners were Washington University’s Olin School in St. Louis, up 11 places to finish 29th from 41st last year, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School and the University of Washington’s Foster School, both up seven places to rank 27th and 33rd, respectively.”

We also want to remind readers of something noted in our own rankings: some schools with a strong engineering focus–Texas A&M, Purdue, and Georgia Tech–also have outstanding business schools.

No big surprises among the leading programs nationwide, all of which are in private universities: Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Penn, Northwestern, MIT, Columbia, and Dartmouth.

Below are the public university MBA programs ranked among the top 50, according to Poets & Quants:

9–UC Berkeley




18–UT Austin

19–North Carolina




28–Ohio State


32–Texas A&M


34–Penn State


40–Georgia Tech

41–Michigan State



46–Arizona State

48–UC Irvine




Gates Foundation: No More Cuts for Colleges, but More Productivity from Pell Recipients

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has released a summary of their recommendations for dealing with the budget crisis in public universities, and key to their findings is that while state funding cuts have been severe and should go no further, the success rate for Pell Grant recipients is not high enough in relation to the cost.

The Foundation does not subscribe to the idea that college for most people isn’t worth the cost anymore.

“The returns to the individual from education are very clear,” the summary says. “In short, the more education you get, the more money you earn, and the less likely you are to be unemployed. This pattern holds true at every rung up the educational ladder, from high school dropouts to students who earn professional graduate degrees.”

The public still concurs: college enrollment has risen 17 percent over the last five years–but states have responded by higher education funding cuts of 13 percent.

While the report does not lay all the blame for rising tuition costs and student debt on state budget reductions, there is no doubt that the Foundation believes further cuts are not the solution. “The cost of a public education has been going up steadily for years,” the summary says, “and the rate of increase has spiked since disinvestment at the state level.”

Of course rising tuition has filled part of the gap, but the Foundation is especially concerned that increasing reliance on student loans, specifically Pell Grants, are not yielding a strong return on the public investment.

“So individuals and the government are spending all this money they don’t have on college, which it turns out is about a 50/50 proposition,” the report says. The Foundation is now trying to find ways to improve the graduation performance of Pell recipients.

Aside from putting an end to state funding cuts and improving Pell performance, the Foundation believes that it is necessary to “keep redesigning the higher education experience to fit the changing demographics of the student population.

“As enrollment goes up, the typical student profile changes. College students today are working and raising families while attending school, and they are often going part time. We should not expect to educate them the same way we educate single 18-year-olds living on campus and focusing only on classes.”

Not surprisingly, this leads to an encouraging message about the effectiveness of online learning.  The Foundation wants even more focus on “developing technologies that can improve learning and increase personalization while lowering costs. And we have to focus on developing technologies that are effective with the least advantaged students.”

The Foundation has funded Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI).  OLI has developed interactive courseware that “got very compelling results with Carnegie Mellon students, but the question always existed about whether the results would hold for less well prepared and self-motivated students.

“We funded OLI to work with community colleges and their students. Recently, a random control trial proved that OLI-powered blended learning at public universities serving a cross section of student produced the same or better results than traditional models while getting students through the material in less time. The results point the way to significant cost savings and high-quality learning together.”

We believe that however the introduction of online learning plays out, the Foundation’s concern for public higher education is laudable as well as necessary if we are indeed to “maintain our higher education system as an engine of growth and social justice.”

OU Honors College Works with Student to Develop MOOC Pilot Program

Note: this excellent piece by Max Janerka, is from the Oklahoma Daily.  A great story about an honors dean collaborating with a student…

Starting this coming semester, OU will be offering an experimental program of MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses.

This pilot program will be made available exclusively through the Honors College at first, and it will not count for OU credit, said Jake Morgan, a microbiology sophomore and the mastermind behind the program.

Morgan, who also is a reporter for The Daily, said the pilot program will begin a few weeks into the semester and function like the Honors College reading groups, where students involved in the online courses meet in informal groups once a week to discuss what they learned and study together.

This would make up for the lack of community sentiment that is regarded as the greatest pitfall of MOOCs as a whole, Morgan said, and it will allow students to work together in pursuit of knowledge.

Morgan said he got the idea when he attended an educational symposium called “NextEd” at the Oklahoma Creativity Festival. One of the speakers there was Ken Parker, founder of NextThought, which is an innovative start-up focused on improving the quality and accessibility of online education, according to Creative Oklahoma’s website.

At the festival, Parker talked about online education and discussed MOOCs and the dangers and pitfalls of studying online and relying on the Internet, Morgan said. The question that bothered Morgan was how to create a learning community while still being involved in the MOOC, so he decided to try to resolve the biggest problem of a lack of interaction here at OU.

After coordinating with Honors College Dean David Ray, Morgan came up with a plan.

The program will encompass four online courses over three platforms: Game Theory and Critical Thinking in Global Challenges from Coursera, How to Build a Startup from Udacity and a course on artificial intelligence from edX. Morgan said it was important for the pilot program to be spread over multiple platforms and different types of programs in order to have a wider base from which to build the MOOC program in the future.

The artificial intelligence course is, according to edX’s website, an upper-division course originating from UC Berkley that is taught by Pieter Abbeel and Dan Klein and introduces the basic ideas and techniques underlying the design of intelligent computer systems.

How to Build a Startup is a business course focusing on instructor Steve Blank’s Customer Development process, according to Udacity’s website. The key steps of this process include identifying and engaging the first customers for a product and gathering, evaluating and using customer feedback to improve the product, marketing and business model.

Game Theory from Coursera is taught by Matthew O. Jackson and Yoav Shoham of Stanford University and Kevin Leyton-Brown of the University of British Columbia and focuses on “representing games and strategies, the extensive form (which computer scientists call game trees), Bayesian games (modeling things like auctions), repeated and stochastic games, and more,” according to the website.

The Coursera website also describes the course Critical Thinking in Global Challenges as one which will help students to “develop and enhance [their] ability to think critically, assess information and develop reasoned arguments in the context of the global challenges facing society today.” This course is taught by Mayank Dutia and Celine Caquineau, both of the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Morgan said the program is still in its planning stages. Meeting times, resources and student involvement are all still being worked on.

“We are planning on starting small,” Morgan said. “That way, if there is a problem, whether in the program or in logistics, we will be able to tackle it.”

Times Higher Ed World University Rankings 2012: The Top U.S. Publics

Each year we especially enjoy writing about the Times Higher Education World University Rankings because unlike most U.S. ranking publications and the current trend of disparaging academic research at public institutions, the Times rankings embrace research as “the single most influential of the 13 indicators,” as the Times “looks at the role of universities in spreading new knowledge and ideas.”

This year, U.S. public universities occupy 24 of the top 100 slots, while U.S. private universities account for another 23 positions.  The Times surveys 400 institutions, so being in the top 100 is certainly a noteworthy achievement.  The continuing worldwide respect for U.S. higher education is even more remarkable, given the number of detractors in this country.

The Times rankings do not ignore metrics for class size and financial resources as they focus on research, but they certainly do not make them determinative.  The downside to the Times list is that it does not include a metric for graduation rates.

But to us, the Times rankings are like old-time football: straight up head knocking to see who’s the best, and forget who has the most expensive stadium or the best recruiting class.  On the other hand, we believe that they are most useful in tandem with some of the other rankings that place more emphasis on class size as well as graduation rates.  In effect, the Times rankings offset some of the shortcomings of the U.S. News rankings, and the U.S. News rankings do the same for the Times rankings.

Below are six lists.  The first lists the U.S. public universities that are in the top 100 universities in the world, according to the Times rankings.  We will show the world rank, and then list the university.

The other five lists show the U.S. universities that are in the top 50 in the subject areas ranked by the Times: Arts and Humanities; Engineering and Technology; Life Sciences; Physical Sciences; and Social Sciences.  Again, we will list the world rank of each university within each subject area, and then the name of the university.

U.S. Public Universities in the Top 100 Worldwide:

9–UC Berkeley




25–UT Austin

26–Georgia Tech



35–UC Santa Barbara

38–UC San Diego

42–North Carolina

44–UC Davis


53–Ohio State

61–Penn State


72–Massachusetts Amherst



94–Michigan State

96–UC Irvine




Arts and Humanities: Top 50 Worldwide

7–UC Berkeley




22–UT Austin


33–North Carolina


42–Massachusetts Amherst




Engineering and Technology: Top 50 Worldwide

4–UC Berkeley


9–Georgia Tech

13–UT Austin

17–UC Santa Barbara




36–UC San Diego




48–UC Davis

Life Sciences: Top 50 Worldwide

6–UC Berkeley


17–UC San Diego




35–North Carolina

38–Massachusetts Amherst

39–UC Santa Barbara

43–Penn State


Physical Sciences: Top 50 Worldwide

2–UC Berkeley



15–UC Santa Barbara

18–UT Austin





47–Georgia Tech

48–UC Santa Cruz

Social Sciences: Top 50 Worldwide



14–UC Berkeley


25–North Carolina


28–UT Austin


34–Ohio State

37–Penn State

47–Michigan State

49–UC Santa Barbara

Mitchell Scholars Chosen for 2014 Master’s Study in Ireland

The most recent selections for the George Mitchell Scholarship to study for a year in Ireland have been announced, and special congratulations are due to students from the universities of Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and the U.S. Naval Academy, the six public institutions with award winners for the class of 2014.  Each year, 11 or 12 scholars are chosen; this year, the number was 12.

Mitchell Scholarships fund study in Ireland at several prominent universities, including University College, Dublin, and Trinity College, Dublin.  The scholarships are announced in the year preceding the full academic year of study.  Therefore, the winners just announced in 2012 will begin study in 2013 and complete their work in 2014, thus making up the “class of 2014.”  In addition to paying for tuition and housing, the scholarship carries a stipend of $12,000.

Students from the following private colleges were also selected: Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Brown, Cambridge, and Washington University St. Louis.

Here are the public university winners for the class of 2014, listed by university.  (See also the cumulative list, by university, which follows).

Minnesota–Martin Chorzempa was raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, and in 2011 graduated summa cum laude in finance and international business from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.  He will study economics at University College, Dublin.

Arizona–Emily Fritze,a native of Phoenix, Arizona, is a 2011 graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree in political science. She is currently a special assistant to the Under Secretary of Energy, working on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. She will study Higher Education at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Alabama–Sarah Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, will graduate from the University of Alabama in 2013 with a degree in mechanical engineering.  She is a Goldwater Scholar and plans to pursue a Ph.D.  She will study advanced mechanical engineering and Queen’s University Belfast.

Naval Academy–Jonathan Poole of Yarmouth, Maine, will graduate in 2013 from the US Naval Academy with a degree in applied mathematics.  He aims to increase educational and business opportunities in his home state, and eventually to become involved in politics there.  He will study International Public Policy and Diplomacy at University College Cork.

Auburn–Marian Royston will graduate from Auburn University with a major in history and a double minor in community and civic engagement and political science.  Royston’s long-term goal is to work on rural policy issues to expand social and economic opportunity for rural residents.  She will study Community Development at Learning at Queen’s University Belfast.

Oklahoma–Robin Tipps, a member of the Quapaw Tribe, was raised in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He will graduate in 2013 from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in sociology-criminology. His goal is to be a tribal attorney, and he hopes one day to be chairman of his tribe.   He will study Public Law at National University Ireland Galway.

Overall public university leaders in Mitchell awards, not counting service academies, are listed below:

Georgia, Indiana, Washington–3 each

Alabama, UC Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State–2 each

Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio U, Oregon UC Irvine, UCLA, UT Austin, Wisconsin–1 each


Another New Twist at U.S. News: A Nod to Public University Value

Recently we wrote that the U.S. News ranking methodology and a new way of analyzing academic reputation have an overall negative impact on public universities.  Today, however, another initiative by the magazine will at least show how some public universities are able to present a quality education at relatively low cost.

Like another higher authority, the magazine can both give and take away.

Congratulations to Florida State for taking the top spot on the list.  Miami of Ohio is third, followed by Alabama, William & Mary, and several other public universities we follow. One interesting aspect is that William & Mary, the smallest state school on the list, is the only national university in the U.S. News top 50 to make the value list.

One possible explanation is that the high cost of research in engineering, physics, and computer science might have kept these schools off the list.  If so, then the presence on the list of Clemson and Virginia Tech, both with an engineering focus, is a special tribute to them. 

Please see the list below.

This latest development appears to be a sort of U.S. News version of the Kiplinger Best Value report, which compares a school’s ranking with the tuition and debt costs of students to define value.  The new U.S.News angle is to compare its own ranking of a school with the amount per student spent by the school.

Unlike the other recent change by the magazine that generally undervalues the rankings of public universities, this change uses financial resources to show how some publics can do a lot with a little.  If a school has a relatively high U.S. News ranking, then the amount spent per student can likewise be relatively higher and still yield financial value.   If a school has a relatively low U.S. News ranking, then the amount spent per student likewise has to be low for the financial value to be indicated.

Here are some examples from the magazine’s recent post on the new feature.  We will list major public universities on the list, the magazine rank, and then the amount per student spent by the universities.  The list is in rank order, by value as assessed by the magazine:

Florida State: ranking (97); expenditure per student ($17,731)

Miami of Ohio: ranking (89); expenditure per student ($19,091)

Alabama: ranking (77); expenditure per student ($20,288)

William & Mary: ranking (33); expenditure per student ($27,572)

Colorado School of Mines: ranking (77); expenditure per student ($21,417)

Missouri: ranking (97); expenditure per student ($21,226)

Binghamton: ranking (89); expenditure per student ($22,181)

Indiana: ranking (83); expenditure per student ($22,806)

Ohio U: ranking (131); expenditure per student ($18,983)

Rutgers-Newark: ranking (115); expenditure per student ($20,801)

Georgia: ranking (63); expenditure per student ($27,028)

Clemson: ranking (68); expenditure per student ($26,293)

South Carolina: ranking (115); expenditure per student ($21,389)

Virginia Tech: ranking (72); expenditure per student ($26,261)

Oregon: ranking (115); expenditure per student ($21,749)



Is It Time for Public Universities to Say Goodbye to U.S. News?

Dont’ be surprised if you hear in the near future that UC Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Stanford, MIT, and Cornell are “underperforming” universities when it comes to living up to their academic reputations.

While there are some private schools on the short list above, the most recent rankings twist by U.S. News would have you believe that far more public than private universities are performing below their perceived level of quality.

U.S. News, probably trying to answer criticism that its use of academic reputation as a metric is too subjective, is now comparing academic reputation to other factors it uses in order to allegedly demonstrate the validity of each school’s reputation.  The problem is that too many of the other factors used in this process are dependent on the financial resources of each school.

We now wonder whether this new analysis means that U.S. News is signaling a tilt toward the Forbes rankings, long known for being especially unfriendly to public universities.   Forbes’ quirky rankings do not use academic reputation but only “outcomes,” including membership in Who’s Who, salaries of graduates, and the clout of graduates in the corporate realm. The Forbes rankings are largely the product of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a leading critic of public research universities and an advocate for their privatization.

For a while now we have written about alternative ways to view the annual U.S. News college rankings. (Please see An Alternative List of 2013 U.S. News College Rankings for an example.)  Our view is that these rankings have placed too much emphasis on the financial resources and selectivity of institutions, often to the detriment of public universities.  So far, the negative impact of that over-emphasis has been significant but not profound.

But now the magazine is upping the ante–and lowering the “value” of public universities–by assigning overperformance or underperformance rankings based on a comparison of a given school’s undergraduate academic reputation with the magazine’s ranking.  If the U.S. News rank is better than the reputation rank, then the school has overperformed relative to its reputation.  If the magazine rank is worse than the reputation rank, then the school is underperforming.

Examples of alleged under and overperformance are listed below.

The magazine’s resident number-cruncher, Robert Morse, is clear about the new analysis and its impact on public research universities:

“Many of the overperformers are relatively small research universities that grant fewer doctorates and conduct less research than others schools in their category.  All the underperformers are large public universities—in some cases the top ‘flagship’ public in their state—whose academic reputation rank exceeds the performance in the academic indicators.” [Emphasis added.]

So, anyway, that’s the shot across the bow from U.S. News.  Now for some facts and explanation.

U.S. News, like Forbes, has always combined public and private universities and more recently has overemphasized financial factors, which works against most public universities.  Now, in this new analysis, U.S. News is also penalizing public universities that have managed to build strong faculties and earn the respect of high school counselors despite their relative lack of funding.

How the Financial Over-emphasis Affects Public Universities

State University A has a decent endowment but a high undergrad enrollment.  The university has a well-respected faculty, but class size is larger than at a private school.  The relative lack of funding means that the school has to balance faculty quality and class size and does not have the luxury of spending the enormous sums required to retain top professors and maintain small class size at the same time.

If University A stops hiring well-respected faculty and begins using, say, 1.5 adjuncts per single faculty slot, class size falls but so does academic reputation, along with the U.S News rank.  If University A goes back to hiring better faculty at higher cost, then class sizes increase, and the U.S. News methodology penalizes them on that end too.

If you say, well, more money always wins out, please go to our link above.  There we write that if you strip away the alumni giving, the impact of endowment, and other financial metrics and focus only on the essentials of academic reputation, graduation rates, and small classes, the publics do better overall than they do when the financial metrics and their magnifying impact are included.

It is one thing for U.S. News to show the impact of ample funding (smaller class size, more money for faculty), but adding points simply for having the money magnifies the impact of funding.  As we have noted elsewhere, this is like giving a well-heeled college applicant with a high SAT score credit for both the high score and the financial resources of his or her parents.

Is It Time for Public Universities to Boycott U.S. News?

U.S. News now seems poised to magnify the magnifying effect described above, especially among leading research institutions that have struggled against inadequate funding and self-interested “reformers” to build strong academic reputations anyway. Why do these institutions make every effort to have the best faculty?  Well, here is what Morse himself has to say.

“Peer assessments are subjective, but they are also important because a diploma from a distinguished college helps graduates get good jobs or gain admission to top-notch graduate programs.”

But the “top-notch graduate programs” that exist at public research institutions can be the very reason, according to Morse, that the universities’ reputations are inflated (if you accept that the magazine’s rankings trump reputation).

“[Underperformance] could mean that the school’s undergraduate academic reputation is benefiting from a much higher reputation held by its various graduate schools. Or, it could mean that the school’s reputation has yet to fully reflect negative trends that are taking place in the underlying academic indicators.”  Especially those indicators that have dollar signs.

If this looks like a tough row to hoe for state universities, it is. Educating tens of thousands of students while maintaining relatively low cost and a strong faculty count for little despite evidence of public excellence. (See, for example,  College Value: Public Honors vs. Private Elites.)

Maybe it’s time for the public universities to let U.S. News and Forbes do only what they do best: promote leading private colleges and universities that already have pretty much all that they need.

Examples of  “underperforming” universities are below.  The minus sign figure equals the difference between a school’s undergraduate academic reputation in the magazine’s latest rankings (in most cases) and its U.S. News rank. For its new analysis, the magazine is using “peer group” reputation rather than the entire metric for academic reputation used in the 2013 rankings, probably because outside analysts cannot separate out the peer group ranking from the entire metric.  The entire metric uses peer group plus high school counselor assessments of reputation.  Schools in bold below are based on the peer group reputation only, as already published by U.S. News; others are based on the entire metric used in the current magazine reputation rank.  Although the new analysis when it is published will present different figures from some of those not in boldface below, we believe these numbers give you a good idea of what’s coming.

M.I.T (-5)

Stanford (-5)

Johns Hopkins (-7)

Cornell (-9)

UC Berkeley (-13)

Michigan (-12)

Virginia (-6)

North Carolina (-7)

UT Austin (-20)

Wisconsin (-15)

Georgia Tech (-10)

Illinois (-12)

Penn State (-9)

Washington (-9)

Indiana (-39)

Kansas (-39)

Arizona State (-69)

Arizona (-61)

(Note: we have also commented that U.S. News is especially hard on the Arizona schools, despite many examples of excellence at both institutions.)

Illinois Chicago (-53)

Montana (-48)

Colorado (-46)

New Mexico (-45)

Oregon (-45)

Utah (-43)

As is the case with the Forbes rankings, the new U.S. News analysis will bring attention to schools that are not much in the public eye.  Those that have the highest overperformance are these:  Adelphi, Ashland, St. Thomas, St. Mary’s of Minnesota, Azusa Pacific, and one public school, South Carolina State.