One of the most controversial aspects of the U.S. News national university rankings is the use of “undergraduate academic reputation” scores based on the “expert opinion” of the 43.6 percent of college presidents, deans, and provosts who actually return the peer assessment documents to U.S. News. Each response rates a university’s academic reputation on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.
The academic reputation category itself counts for 20 percent of the total ranking, a hefty impact indeed. Since 2015, the mean scores for 99 national universities have risen by .14, from 3.67 to 3.81, or almost 4 percent. A rise or fall of .1 or .2 seems to have minimal positive impact on a university’s ranking, while a rise or fall of .3 more likely indicates a real shift in perception and ranking..
The most likely explanation for the minimal impact, in general, of reputation score increases of less than .3 is that changes in the U.S. News rankings methodology that includes measures for “social mobility” and “graduate indebtedness” have, in many cases, overridden or undermined the impact of marginally higher scores for academic reputation.
Only one university, Northeastern, rose by .4–yet the overall ranking for Northeastern fell from 42 to 44 between 2015 and 2023. The reputation score of 11 universities rose by .3: Notre Dame, NYU, Purdue, Boston University, Virginia Tech, Georgia, UMass Amherst, UConn, Utah, UC Santa Cruz, and Florida State. For this group, the ranking for 9 or the 11 universities rose, while the other 2 fell. Only Notre Dame and UConn dropped in the rankings as their reputation scores rose.
Below is a table showing the changes in academic reputation scores and overall rankings for 99 national universities, 2015-2023, sorted by academic reputation ranking in 2023.
Below is our annual update of US News average rankings across the most recent eight-year period. Our first effort, covering the years 2014–2021, showed that public university rankings as a whole declined by 4.4 percent during that timeframe, while the decline for private universities was slightly less at 4.3 percent.
This time around, public universities have made significant gains overall, reflecting in part the changes in US News methodology. The overall rankings for publics did decline, but only by 3.0 percent. Meanwhile, the overall rankings for private universities declined by 5.4 percent.
The table below does not include universities that moved into the national university category since 2014 or that were not rated among the top 125 in that category in 2014. But here is a list of those and their 2023 ranking.
The new list has several dramatic changes, some of them making sense only if there were major adjustments or corrections to the data reported from the universities. For example, the ranking of Penn State was 47 in 2016 but 77 in 2023. The most dramatic improvement among publics was Florida State, which moved from 96 to 55 during the eight years. Undoubtedly, the biggest change among elite private institutions was the drop of Columbia from 4 to 18 across the same span of years. The decline came after accusations by a math professor that Columbia “fudged” numbers in previous years.
In the coming weeks we will also post our annual comparison of US News Rankings, academic reputation rankings, and departmental rankings.
Editor’s note: Our thanks to the University of Georgia for much of this information.
One of the best and oldest public university honors programs in the nation is at the University of Georgia–and now it is set to become the Morehead Honors College at UGA, funded in part by an honors endowment approaching $10 million.
The new honors college will be named after President Jere Morehead, an altogether fitting move based in part on his former leadership of the honors program from 1999 to 2004. The program began in 1960, placing it among the five or six most longstanding programs in the nation. Since 2012, we have rated the program as among the very best, giving special nods to its undergraduate research emphasis and to its outstanding record of mentoring students who have won Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, and Goldwater Scholarships.
UGA President Jere Morehead and students
“Over the last quarter century, UGA became a recognized leader with regard to nationally and internationally competitive major scholarships. Consider that while UGA had only two recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship between World War II and 1995 (in 1960 and 1973), during the past 25 years UGA has produced nine Rhodes Scholars and, as a result, UGA now trails only UVA and UNC in the number of Rhodes Scholars produced by a public institution during this time period,” according to Dr. David S. Williams, who succeeded Dr. Morehead as director in 2004.
UGA Honors Director David S. Williams
“This record of success with regard to external scholarships has continued since 2014, including the following significant achievements: (1) five Schwarzman Scholars since the introduction of this prestigious new award in 2016; (2) at least one national Rhodes finalist each year, with a Rhodes Scholarship recipient in 2017; (3) one Marshall Scholar in 2016; (4) UGA’s first two Beinecke Awardees in 2017 and 2019; (5) UGA’s first Knight-Hennessy Scholar in 2019, and a second one in 2020; (6) UGA’s first Churchill Scholar in 2019; (7) three Truman recipients; (8) seven Udall recipients; and (9) 17 Goldwater recipients, including the institutional maximum of four recipients in 2019.”
The fundraising campaign has raised more than $8 million of its $10 million goal, with plans to use an endowment to fund new, permanent and robust support for academic programming, undergraduate research, study abroad and internship opportunities for Honors students.
“Upon learning of this action, it is difficult for me to adequately express my appreciation to the UGA Foundation Trustees, other donors, the chancellor and the Board of Regents for making this incredible honor possible,” said Morehead. “Working with the Honors Program—as its director and continuing as provost and president—has been one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my career. I am humbled and deeply grateful.”
As honors director, Morehead help to create the Washington Semester Program that has sent more than 2,000 students to work as interns in the nation’s capital. He also created the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO), a model for undergraduate research programs in honors programs and universities.
“What President Morehead did in his time as Honors Program director established a great precedent for our faculty and administration, and it built a springboard for all the students who have entered our program since,” said Dr. Williams, the current director. “UGA Honors is today regarded as one of the finest public university honors programs in the country—due in no small part to the accomplishments of the president’s tenure—so it is exciting to imagine where we go from here.”
Deep Shah, a 2008 alumnus and now a physician in Atlanta, said that Morehead’s “commitment to elevating both the university and the Honors Program was evident to me then. As I have come to know him more as an alumnus, that commitment has become even more clear as have the results of his efforts. I can think of no one more deserving of this honor.” Dr. Shah was named a Rhodes Scholar in 2008.
Under Morehead’s long tenure as president, UGA’s four-year completion rate rise from 61% to 71% and its six-year completion rate climbed to 87%. UGA has been rated a top 20 public university by U.S. News & World Report for five consecutive years, most recently being ranked at No. 15.
Editor’s Note: The following information is from the US-Ireland Alliance. We are pleased to see that the Mitchell Scholar Program continues to provide exciting opportunities for students to do graduate work at several of Ireland’s world-class universities.
November 21, 2020 – The US-Ireland Alliance announced the 12 members of the George J. Mitchell Scholar Class of 2022 following virtual interviews earlier today. One of the country’s most prestigious scholarship programs, it sends future American leaders to the island of Ireland for a year of graduate study.
Trinity College Dublin
A record number of 453 individuals applied this year – a 22% increase over the previous record set two years ago. Half of the semifinalists and half of the finalists were people of color, another record. Thirty percent of the finalists were from universities or colleges not previously represented and 70% of this year’s applicants were women.
The program was founded and is led, by Trina Vargo. It is unique among the nation’s most prestigious scholarships in being founded and led by a woman. Speaking of the new class, Vargo said, “Several applicants spoke specifically of their preference for studying in Ireland vs. England. They compared the history of disenfranchisement in the US to that of Ireland’s suppression under British colonialism. Many are also interested in places, like Northern Ireland, that have wrestled with their own conflicts. Recipient Kieran Hampton said: “I too have lived a life noiselessly charged with sectarian tension and the residue of violence. I am attracted to the island of Ireland and feel I have much in common with it.”
University College Dublin
Carolina Chavez, Director of the Mitchell Scholarship, spoke of the program’s requirements and process: “Our newly selected class will continue the Mitchell tradition of exploring new perspectives on contemporary issues, building skills, and relationships that will power the US-Ireland relationship in the years to come.”
Members of the selection committee included Monica Bell, a Mitchell Scholar alum and Associate Professor of Law and Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale; Justin McCarthy, Senior Vice President at the Patient & Health Impact group at Pfizer; Cóilín Parsons, Associate Professor of English, Georgetown University; and Ireland’s Deputy Ambassador to the United States, Emer Rocke.
Major supporters of the program include Ireland’s Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science; Morgan Stanley; Pfizer; and the Pritzker Foundation. The Scholars will begin their studies in Ireland in September 2021.
Queen’s University Befast
George J. Mitchell Scholars, Class of 2022
Jonathan Chew is a senior at Baylor University where he studies Mathematics and Russian as part of the Baylor Business Fellows program. As a dual citizen of the US and the UK, he follows Brexit closely. He’s been struck by how effectively the Leave campaign used data science to win an upset victory with a heavy investment in technology consulting and micro-targeted online messaging. The integral nature of data science in both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US Presidential Election led Jonathan to choose a major that would allow him to explore the mathematical and data analytics side of modern politics. Given the controversy surrounding the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Brexit, Jonathan finds Ireland an interesting place to study how initiatives like the aforesaid referendum go from concept to reality and how data science can shape election outcomes. Jonathan will study Politics and Data Science at University College Dublin.
Meghan Davis is a senior and dual major in Biological Engineering and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An interdisciplinary researcher, Meghan is committed to tackling health inequities faced by vulnerable and marginalized communities. Currently, she is pursuing a mixed-methods approach to understand the cardiovascular disease disparities in urban Black women and interventions that can be implemented to reduce these disparities. She is collaborating with a local Black women’s health organization to ensure the project is designed with the key stakeholders, Black women, at the reins. Meghan’s service was honored earlier this year with the Martin Luther King Jr. Service award for “service to the community.” She also received MIT’s Bridge Builder award for her “strong commitment to and passion for diversity education and cultural celebration.” Meghan’s goal is to become a physician-scientist and will study Global Health at Trinity College Dublin.
Marilu Duque is pursuing an MSc in Information at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Her work is at the nexus of national security, cybersecurity, machine learning (ML), and research. As a first-generation American from Florida, she was raised with profound patriotism towards the community that welcomed her Cuban refugee father and her Dominican mother. She learned early that technology has not always served vulnerable communities well. As an undergraduate at New York University, where she obtained her Bachelor’s in Integrated Digital Media in 2019, Marilu was the NYC Regional Lead for the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Code as a Second Language program and taught 60 plus students in the Bronx. She is currently a Cyber Threat Intelligence intern at FireEye where she identifies actionable intelligence to inform customers of potential cyber threats to critical infrastructure. Marilu will study Applied Cyber Security at Technological University Dublin.
Genevieve Finn recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, completing her English degree in 2.5 years while working part-time. She is currently a reporter at The Malibu Times, where she is working to create a Spanish-language insert in the paper’s print edition to serve Malibu’s Latinx day laborer commuter population. As a student journalist for the Daily Bruin’s magazine, she wrote about racism faced by students studying abroad and launched a soon-to-be-published, months-long investigation into the data collection policies of a for-profit plagiarism-checking company used by UCLA. She was awarded an Overseas Press Club Foundation fellowship for her writing about her voyage and will work at the Associated Press’ Mexico City Bureau when travel is safe. Noting that most international coverage of Ireland focuses on The Troubles and Brexit, she plans to seek what is beyond the major narratives. Genevieve plans a career in long-form journalism and will study Creative Writing at Trinity College Dublin.
Tawreak Gamble-Eddington is a senior studying Political Science and History at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He is President of the Black Student Union, former President of Union Pride, and part of the local chapter of My Brother’s Keeper (President Obama’s mentoring program), which built space at Union to work with disadvantaged students in Schenectady. As a Gilman Scholar, Ty traveled to Poland to study Holocaust history and Polish Jewry and volunteered with local Polish organizations and synagogues. Born to African American and Irish American parents, Ty hopes to continue researching his ancestry in Ireland. Though his great-grandmother grew up in an orphanage in the Boston-area, the family has traced her roots to Limerick. Planning for an eventual career at the intersections of law and minority advocacy, Ty will study Race, Ethnicity, Conflict at Trinity College Dublin.
Kiran Hampton recently graduated from Harvard University with High Honors in History and Literature. As the President of Harvard Radio Broadcasting, he ran the largest open organization on campus, setting and executing policy for a 24/7 commercial radio station with a large share of the Boston market. Kiran and his team grew WHRB administratively and financially while significantly increasing its membership and improving the quality of its broadcasting. Kiran is proficient in Arabic, was a Harvard Crimson Editorial Board Editor and tutored students for the citizenship exam. His academic interest is in administrative and economic institutions, “in particular, in the sliding schema of regulation, by which private organizations and the state enforce economic and social rules with maniacal harshness against the poor and flexible permissiveness against the powerful.” Kiran has been admitted to Harvard Law. He will study Economics at Queen’s University Belfast.
Abigail Hickman is a senior at Columbia University where she majors in Anthropology. A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, she is interested in Indigenous Futurisms, a subfield of speculative fiction that focuses on what decolonization might look like. She serves on Columbia’s executive board of the Native American Council, where she spearheaded a successful petition for university recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Abigail notes that this relationship revealed its unyielding strength as recently as this year when Irish citizens fundraised thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief aid for the Navajo and Hopi Nations, and when Ireland’s lacrosse team bowed out of the sport’s top international tournament to support the inclusion of the Iroquois Nationals. Today, Indigenous people still confront eliminatory systems of power and Abigail wants to imagine what might come next. She hopes to work as a professor at a university with a large Indigenous student population. She will study English at the University of Limerick.
Joy Nesbitt is a senior at Harvard University studying Social Anthropology and Music. A director, actress, and musician, she uses the arts to bring attention to social justice issues. She currently serves as Co-President of BlackCAST, where she organizes the annual Black Playwright’s Festival and develops art that foregrounds Black dramatists and theater-makers. Joy revamped KeyChange, the acapella group focused on performing music from the African Diaspora, serving as President in the group’s first returning year. This summer, she directed several plays on Zoom, including a successful production of God of Carnage and Romeo & Juliet. Joy finds that her experience as a Black woman from the South is regularly affected and dependent upon a global history of colonialism, slavery, and systematic disenfranchisement. She sees a similarity with British colonialism’s impact on Ireland. Joy will study Theatre Directing at The Lir Academy, Trinity College Dublin.
Maysa Sitar is a senior at Michigan State University where she studies Political Science. She became interested in voting at an early age while growing up in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As a sophomore, she petitioned her principal to offer the PSAT, which was not previously offered. As the MSU student body Vice President for Governmental Affairs, she has hosted on-campus debates for local elections, doubled dorm voter registration efforts, and create easy to read, nonpartisan guides for every election. MSU saw a 21 percent increase in the turnout rate for the 2018 midterm elections. Maysa is currently conducting independent research to examine the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on electoral manipulation in countries with regularly scheduled elections during 2020. Maysa will study Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.
Amelia Steinbach is a senior at Duke University, where she is an Alice M. Baldwin Scholar – a prestigious four-year women’s leadership program meant to replicate the benefit of women’s colleges within a liberal arts education. A Political Science major, she is the primary instructor of a course that explores the history of women in the American government and the disproportionate impact of various policies on women and girls. Amelia served as a research fellow for Kathy Manning’s congressional campaign in North Carolina in 2018 and interned with U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in 2019. After the internship, the Washington Post published her editorial detailing the lack of race and gender diversity in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s expert witness hearings. The piece emphasized the responsibility that leadership and staff in both parties have in addressing this imbalance. She will attend Harvard Law School in the fall of 2023. Amelia will study Gender, Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin.
Maura Welch is a speechwriter for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. She has written speeches about a host of local and national issues, including climate action and racial justice, and developed creative outreach materials including videos, opinion columns, and a podcast. She is especially adept at handling sensitive topics, such as the Trump Administration’s changes to Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault, the Mayor’s commitment to protecting immigrants and refugees, the city’s response to the opioid epidemic, and the murder of George Floyd. After graduating from The George Washington University with a degree in Environmental Studies in 2013, she worked for The Nature Conservancy’s Islands Program on Martha’s Vineyard where she managed communications for a new citizen science program, developed educational curricula for the public school system, and coordinated sustainability projects. Maura sees clear parallels between COVID-19 and the climate crisis and is ready to play a bigger role in promoting sustainability and equity in Boston. She will study Comparative Social Change at Trinity College Dublin.
Selena Zhao was selected last year for a Mitchell Scholarship, but a sports-related injury resulted in her deferral to the Class of 2022. Selena graduated in May 2020 from Harvard with a degree in Government. As a student, she researched consociationalism and the impact of this form of power-sharing. She has explored the topic in Nigeria, Lebanon, and wrote her senior thesis on the Good Friday Agreement and how it incentivizes the ethnonational divide for political gain. Selena has worked as a research assistant for several Harvard professors and contributed to Professor Steve Levitsky’s bestseller How Democracies Die. In London, she interned with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, researching a UK centrist platform. Before university, Selena was a competitive figure skater for the Canadian International Team and was the 2015 Junior National Champion. She managed and performed at An Evening with Champions, a yearly fundraiser for pediatric cancer research. She will study Conflict Transformation at Queen’s University Belfast.
This post applies to students who took the test in October 2019 (NMS Class of 2021).
The big news is that every state saw a drop in the qualifying score for the NMS Class of 2021, including five with a 4-point decline and one, South Dakota, with a 5-point decline.
“What is somewhat surprising is how sharp the difference is between the highest scoring states and everyone else,” writes Art Sawyer at Compassprep. “Of the 10 states at a cutoff of 221 or higher for the class of 2020, 8 saw only a 1-point decline. Illinois and Texas were the exceptions, with 2-point declines. The average decline among the other 40 states was 2.7 points.”
The selection index score is the sum of your three PSAT scores, maximum of 228. The first score listed is for 2021; the second was the score required for the class of 2020; and the third is the score for the class of 2019.
To qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT must be taken in the student’s junior year of high school. Many parents may not be aware that there is no single nationwide score on the PSAT that will qualify a student to become a NMS semifinalist, a critical preliminary step on the way to becoming a finalist and then perhaps a merit scholar.
Students are classified according to the state in which they attend high school, not the state of actual residence.
For more information about confirmation scores, please see PSAT Scoring and NMS (for a detailed explanation of scoring); The National Merit Journey: What You Need to Know, Part One; and The National Merit Journey Part Two: The Parent’s Role.
Semifinalists emerge from the top 3-4% of students (50,000 or so) taking the test, by virtue of the PSAT score alone. The top 3-4% of students earn “commended” status, and there is a national uniform score for commended students=209 for 2021. (See below for SAT equivalent.) Semifinalists, on the other hand, account for fewer than 1% of all students, or about 16,000 nationwide.
From these students, the merit scholar foundation, using state allocation levels, selects about 15,000 to become finalists; and from this group, about 9,000 are actually selected as merit scholars, based on both PSAT and SAT scores and a letter of recommendation from the high school principal. Therefore, many students who meet the semifinalist thresholds listed below do not go on to become finalists or merit scholars (two different things, though for some schools being a finalist is sufficient to earn support). We speculate that meaningful improvement on the SAT, taken in the spring of the junior year, relative to the PSAT score from the preceding October, may help in identifying students who go beyond finalist status and become merit scholars.
Each state has its own threshold PSAT score, which is the baseline for students to be considered as semifinalists in a given state. The scores vary widely for the NMS class of 2021, from 209 in West Virginia to 222 in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
The first two are straightforward: The university rate will always be lower than the honors program rate because of the greater selectivity and mentoring associated with honors programs. The university grad rate for honors students averages 86-88 percent, and is sometimes as high as 97 percent.
An honors completion rate goes a step beyond the honors graduation rate. The grad rate is for honors entrants, whether or not they completed all honors requirements by the time of graduation. The completion rate is the percentage of honors program entrants who not only graduated from the university but also completed all honors program requirements for at least one option. Some programs have multiple options, with the requirements for first-year entrants averaging about 30 honors credits and a threshold for transfer students of 15-18 hours or so.
In our study for 2020, we have obtained honors graduation and completion rates from 31 honors colleges and programs. Below, in Table 1, we list the programs with the highest completion rates, all above the mean of 57.2 percent. In this table we also list the honors graduation rate, the highest credit-hour completion requirement for each program, and the average 2020 SAT scores for first-year entrants.
The top six programs all had honors completion rates of 70 percent or higher. This is a remarkably high number when one considers that many of these programs require an honors thesis. Many elite private colleges no longer require a thesis for graduation or for honors recognition. The top six programs, in terms of raw ordinal completion rates, are CUNY Macaulay Honors College; UIUC’s CHP Honors Program; the UT Austin Plan II Honors Program; Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College; the South Carolina Honors College; and Arizona State’s Barrett Honors College.
HONORS PROGRAMS, STRONG
2020 1st Yr
UT Austin Plan II
Penn State Schreyer HC
South Carolina HC
Arizona St Barrett HC
College of Charleston HC
Washington St HC
In Table 2, below, we show adjusted honors completion rates for programs after the impact of university graduation and freshman retention rates are taken into account. In contrast to Table 1, the table shows the extent to which programs have exceeded expectations in light of these two factors.
We find that seven programs achieved an adjusted completion rate that exceeded the target rate by 10 or more percentage points: CUNY Macaulay Honors College; the UAB Honors College; the Kansas University Honors Program; the College of Charleston Honors College; the South Carolina Honors College; Arizona State’s Barrett Honors College; and the Washington State Honors College.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts on how public university honors colleges and programs across the nation are maintaining “the honors difference” during the COVID-19 crisis.
Our thanks to Virginia Tech Honors College for contributing this article. Contact Michelle Fleury (email@example.com) for more information.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus), Virginia Tech transitioned to distance learning for the remainder of the Spring semester after March 23, 2020. The Virginia Tech Honors College, through innovative initiatives like the SuperStudio, has continued to facilitate an extraordinary education for Honors students even during these challenging times.
In Spring 2020, the Virginia Tech Honors College, in collaboration with the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) and University Studies, was able to launch SuperStudio. For the next few semesters, topics courses in environmental policy, healthcare, emerging technologies, the future of higher education, and the future of employment will all meet together to examine the possibilities and implications of a Green New Deal, an emerging framework for understanding and addressing interconnected crises in climate change and economic equality.
VaTech SuperStudio laid the groundwork for honors collaboration after COVID-19
Faculty and students rotate among the topics courses, which meet simultaneously in the same studio space, and all come together once a week to consider issues and processes that apply to all transdisciplinary work, such as ethics, equity, policy, problem framing, and innovation.
The learning environment of SuperStudio is designed to be highly energized, engaging, and collaborative. “I like being in a space where there’s a lot going on, but we’re not necessarily doing the same thing,” explained Honors student Nina Tarr. “SuperStudio feels like a community.” Nina says her favorite aspect of SuperStudio is the crossing over of sections, such as policy overlapping with higher education. “I also like the theme of the Green New Deal and how we can tie that together with all the different sections,” said Nina.
Collaboration is key, now possible by merging SuperStudio practices and utilizing Zoom
By allowing different sections to work together and meet across topics for common activities, SuperStudio provides plenty of opportunities for students to develop critical skills and knowledge. “I really enjoyed the experience of being in a big room with all the sections and being able to meet each day of the week in different sections,” said Thomas Miller in the Future of Higher Education section. “We would team up with other sections and kind of combine the ideas that allowed for everyone to experiment with what they were thinking about. So, you would be pushed to think about your own ideas about your topic in different ways. It’s a way to meld ideas together to have a cool discussion.”
The collaborative structure developed in SuperStudio has made the transition to online interactions easier because connections between students and faculty across sections were already established at the beginning of the semester. Students were able to know each other well in their smaller sections, but also had many opportunities to regularly interact with faculty and students across sections. “It’s definitely easier to collaborate in SuperStudio because it was already highly collaborative and we all know each other very well,” said Nina. “So, it’s more comfortable to collaborate and it’s easier to connect.”
Honors College SuperStudio is continuing its highly collaborative format online on Zoom, a popular software platform that provides videotelephony and online chat services often used in distance education. Zoom meetings are hosted online with professors from each section and smaller groups continue to break off in individual Zoom meetings to work together on activities or projects that are extensions of those original discussions.It’s this combination of SuperStudio’s unique design and the pre-established connection that allows SuperStudio to still thrive in distance learning.
“I would say SuperStudio is more collaborative [compared] to [my] other courses. A lot of people are still working together in group projects and creating their own learning together,” Thomas said. “For a lot of my other courses, I wouldn’t call it ‘collaboration.’ I’d call it more of a discussion board… It’s not a real conversation or real collaboration. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a classroom [like you feel when in SuperStudio].”
The impact of Honors courses traditionally rests on their small class sizes. “The SuperStudio adds the advantages of experiential, collaborative learning.” said Paul Knox, Dean of the Virginia Tech Honors College, adding that “With our model, we have been able to maintain these advantages through synchronous online learning.”
Meetings with students often focused not only on class topics and projects, but on understanding current events and working through the relationship of class materials to evolving news stories. In this way, students engaged with materials more deeply and maintained more in-depth connections with faculty than if video interactions were limited solely to class-specific materials. Students have maintained connections with fellow students and faculty across topics sections by meeting with different SuperStudio faculty and different groups of students to propose ideas for and develop drafts of final projects. To continue maintaining strong relationships with students and to help students navigate their education during this time, faculty members also expanded their virtual office hours. “The connection is still there,” said Miller. “You have to rely on yourself more, but the bigger issues are still very answerable. E-mail and Zoom correspondence work pretty well.”
SuperStudio has also sustained its visiting speaker series online. Since the transition to distance learning, for example, SuperStudio had the pleasure of speaking with British Economics and Politics Commentator Grace Blakeley, author of “Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialization.” Despite the transition to an online format, the talk was even more interactive. Students were able to ask Blakeley questions ranging from how to “hack” financialization to advice on where to study heterodox economics. Having the audience as well as the speaker on Zoom actually allowed for even closer interaction than if the audience was in person. Blakeley, as the speaker, could see students more individually from the crowd while they asked questions, and therefore, was able to follow-up more personally. Students also appeared to feel more comfortable to engage in this video-conferencing format with the visiting speaker. The success of this format makes it an attractive option for engaging future speakers with the student audience in Honors.
Recently, Google searches are listing two new sites that claim to rank public university honors programs and honors colleges. Their “rankings” in most instances bear a close resemblance to the ratings we have produced since 2012. Aside from the likelihood of extensive (unattributed) borrowing from our copyrighted work, the fact is that most of the data necessary to rank or rate these programs is not publicly available. We are the only site or organization in the country that does have access, gained only after many years of dialogue and collaboration with honors deans and directors across the nation. One wonders how these new rankings were developed. Or were they mostly “borrowed”?
Our collaborative process yields enormous amounts of data. For example, to calculate honors class sizes, we have to analyze about 10,000 honors classes for each addition. Much of the data required for this analysis is not available on honors sites or even on university-wide course schedules.
And still we do not “rank” programs. Typically, I have an opinion, based on data, about the best five to ten programs in the nation among those rated in a given edition. The data may show that one is “better” (a higher point total) than all the rest. And then I think about how I have weighted each of the 13 rating categories. If I were to change any of them, the ratings would change. All is driven by the methodology, and nobody’s methodology is perfect. It is a matter of judgment in the final analysis. It is not scientific in the truest sense, even with all the data involved. I can give you an exact figure for honors class sizes at Honors College A, but the rating proportion I assign to that exact figure is subjective.
If it’s not science, don’t present it as science. Ordinal rankings present themselves as science. But just imagine how the U.S. News rankings would change if all the institutional wealth metrics were removed or if selectivity did not count.
Thanks to the cooperation of honors deans and directors across the nation, we now receive for each rated profile 10-20 pages of documents, much of it hard data on class sections and course offerings. No one else obtains this level of unique data. Even by going online and reading every entry in the university’s course schedule one will not find the volume and specificity of data that we need for honors course analyses. That’s because honors programs offer mixed and contract sections that are not transparent in online course listings.
This brings us to the new rankings.
One lists “The 9 Best Honors Programs” in the nation. Here is the methodology:
“To put together our list, we evaluated the national honors college rankings from the past two years. We also evaluated honors colleges based on admissions requirements, curricular and extracurricular program offerings, emphasis on fostering an honors student community, financial aid opportunities, and unique or innovative approaches to the honors educational experience.” [Emphasis added.]
First, how does someone quantify “an emphasis on fostering an honors student community” or “innovative approaches to the honors educational experience”?
Second, I do not know of any “national honors college rankings,” although we announce the top 5-10 programs, in one alphabetical group, every other year. These programs are “top” only within the data set of rated programs for a given edition. No program is declared number one, or number three, or number ten for that data set, much less for the entire universe of honors programs. They are a instead placed in a group. Our refusal to anoint any program with a specific ranking number has, in fact, caused one prominent program to stop cooperating with us.
The “9 Best” site does not hesitate to do so: “Ranked #1 among honors colleges in the United States, Barrett College has a presence on ASU’s four campuses in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, and Glendale, Arizona.” Although Barrett, under its longstanding Dean, Mark Jacobs, achieves excellent results year in and year out, I do not know of any recent ranking that specifically lists Barrett or any other honors program or college as number 1. It is true that Barrett has been in the highest (five mortarboard) group in all of our editions. But so has the South Carolina Honors College, Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, the Plan II Honors Program at UT Austin, the University Honors Program at Kansas, and, since 2016, the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY. These are very different programs, ranging from extremely large (Barrett) to very small (UT Plan II.)
Other strong programs are at Clemson, Delaware, Georgia, Houston, and Ole Miss. Data from Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina is no longer available, but in one or more previous editions, all received excellent ratings.
The “9 Best” site above also lists Penn State Schreyer, Clemson, and Rutgers Honors College among the best honors colleges, and adds UT Plan II, Kansas UHP, and the Echols Scholar program at UVA. Then in a “best bang for the buck” category, it lists CUNY Macaulay and the Alabama Honors College. (We have not included Echols after the 2014 edition because the new methodology in place since 2016 requires much more class data. Echols students can take almost any class at UVA, and it’s not possible to determine which ones those are at any given time.)
Another site lists “the top 50 honors programs and colleges”-a list which bears an uncanny resemblance to programs we have rated over the years. The list includes several programs that were not prominently mentioned until they appeared in one of our books: New Jersey Institute of Technology, Temple, Colorado State, and CUNY Macaulay, among them.
Here is the methodology behind this list:
“Below, we have compiled a list of the nation’s top honors colleges/programs. The selection was based on the following indicators of program quality.
The selectivity of the college/university (overall)
The selectivity of the honors program
Average honors class size
Number of honors classes
Availability of honors housing
Whether priority registration is offered to honors students
“Schools marked with an asterisk (*) rated especially high on several indicators and were ranked among the top 20 honors programs according to our methodology.”
All of the above information is in our publications. Further, “availability” of honors housing can be calculated only if one knows both the number of honors “beds” and the number of eligible honors students. One can know the true number of honors classes only if there is access to full spreadsheets, not just online listings, especially those limited to the honors homepage. And the true average class size likewise relies on extremely detailed data not available from online sources. Finally, some of the test scores listed on the site are incorrect and misleading.
Yes, I realize that U.S. News has several competitors in ranking colleges and universities. And, often, many of these rankings roughly correspond, especially at the most elite brand level. But…these competing ranking organizations all gather their own data, even while applying different methodologies, refrain from unseemly borrowing.
For several years, we have kept track of U.S. News rankings of academic departments so that we can give readers some idea of which universities are strongest in 15 academic disciplines: biology, business, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, economics, education, engineering, English, history, math, physics, political science, psychology, and sociology.
Sather Gate, UC Berkeley
We use this data for a variety of posts, including some that compare public and private university departmental rankings. In other posts we have shown the relation of departmental rankings to other factors, such as U.S. News rankings and lists based on academic reputation. In yet other posts we have listed the disciplines and then grouped universities under each discipline.
But in this post we simply list 75 public universities in order of the aggregate average of 15 academic departments. One caveat: not all of the 75 universities had a ranked department for each of the 15 disciplines. Nevertheless, for those who prioritize high quality in a university across the board, the list could be useful. Students often change majors, and it is reassuring to know that the new major may likely be as strong as the original choice.
UC Berkeley is far and away the leader with an average department ranking of 2.13 nationwide. This is all the more remarkable because many universities do not have even a single department ranked in the top 75.
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