UT Austin: $310 Million for Engineering Research and Student Projects

The Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin has launched a $310 million project to build the Engineering Education and Research Center , which will include 23,000 square feet of space for engineering students to create and develop hands-on projects.

The total size of the center will be 430,000 square feet, including classroom and office space.

Dr. James Truchard, co-founder and CEO of National Instruments, has donated $10 million for the National Instruments Student Project Center.  Dr. Truchard has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, all from UT Austin.

The Cockrell School of Engineering is outgrowing its present space and needs the addition in order to match recent growth at MIT, Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, and Texas A&M.

The Cockrell School says that for Truchard, “the  a gift to the EERC is about more than giving back to the university. It’s an investment in National Instrument’s future workforce. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, National Instruments includes more than 6,000 employees working in 40 countries.

“We hire from many different areas, electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering and increasingly biomedical engineering. Our professionals need to be flexible, creative and innovative and know how to stay above the curve. Their education is a critical component to their future success,” Truchard said.

“Bringing to life math and physics to students in a way that it inspires innovative thinking and allowing them to succeed and fail with hands-on projects are just a few of the many benefits Truchard and others look forward to with the building of the EERC,” according to the Cockrell School.

At least one-third of the total cost of the 430,000 square foot facility will come in the form of private donations, with the UT System, the university, and the state of Texas providing the rest.  So far, the Board of Regents has designated $105 million for the project from the state’s permanent university fund.

“Depending on fundraising progress, the construction could begin in 2013, and faculty and students could move into the EERC by 2017,” the School says. “The return on…investment will be substantial since a typical graduating class from the Cockrell School generates
$2.5 billion in annual spending, $1.1 billion in gross product, and 10,240 jobs in the U.S. according to an economic study by the Perryman Group.”



Public University Faculty Awards in Science

Recently, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, publisher of the prestigious journal Science, released the names of just over 700 U.S. faculty members who had been named fellows of the AAAS.  Below is a partial breakdown, showing the public institutions with at least five fellows for the current year.

In addition, we will have a separate list showing the number of National Academy of Sciences (NAS) members for each university.  Membership in the NAS is extremely selective.

Some of the numbers may be a surprise, but what is no surprise is the prominence of University of California schools, especially on the NAS list.

New Fellows AAAS (note: our list does not include fellows from medical schools affiliated with universities)

Michigan–19 (led all institutions, public and private)

Ohio State–18 (second among all institutions)

Univ of S. Florida–14

UC Davis–13

UC Irvine–13


UC San Diego–11




North Carolina–8

Stony Brook–8

UC Santa Barbara–8

Washington State–8

Georgia Tech–7




UT Austin–7


Penn State–6

Colorado State–5





Univ of Cent. Florida–5

The next list shows public institutions that have at least ten faculty members in the National Academy of Sciences:

UC Berkeley–129 (third highest in the nation, public or private, following Harvard and Stanford)

UC San Diego–65




UC Santa Barbara–33





UC Davis–20

UC Irvine–20

UT Austin–17



Penn State–13


Ohio State–12

Arizona State–11


Stony Brook–10



















Are Florida’s Leaders Inviting Another Catastrophe–This Time in Higher Ed?

Florida, in the news once again for its election woes, is also joining Texas and Virginia in the race to see how much havoc meddling university board members can create in the name of “reform.”

In Florida, the most controversial issue is “differentiated tuition,” a business-speak term to describe a plan to reduce tuition for STEM majors and others in Legislature-designated priority fields, while allowing tuition for students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to increase.

(See discussion and links related to Differentiated Tuition, below.)

Florida Governor Rick Scott has expressed his admiration for the conservative push by Rick Perry in Texas to transform that state’s flagship schools into productivity machines aligned with the perceived economic needs of the state and business community. Like the recent fiasco in Virginia, these efforts stem, so to speak, from the brains of libertarian and entrepreneurial types who are all agog over the latest management trends. What they claim as their goal is “value” for the state and, occasionally, for students; what they desire is instrumental education on the cheap, paid for in part by gutting those pesky academic disciplines that examine values beyond the bottom line.

Florida Higher Ed Task Force Plan is not only poorly written in its current draft form but also ill-advised. It also has a confrontational, we-know-best tone, especially in its references to “academics.”

“A chasm…exists between the system’s colleges and universities and those who must make the difficult decisions in appropriating scare resources,” the plan says. “Many in the academy deny or outright reject the expectations for increased efficiencies and productivity as precursors to demonstrating value that is presumed, to the detriment of the institutions and systems, as self-evident.”

Despite the inelegance of the last sentence, it is more or less clear that the task force is upset with the academy. Furthermore, the task force wants the academy to know that the state’s Board of Governors does indeed have the final word in higher education: The Board is authorized “to operate, regulate, control, and be fully responsive for the management of the whole university system.”

The plan even slips in a criticism of health care as being one of the villains in causing college costs to rise, along with “the perceived demands by students for making ‘college a life-style, not just people getting an education.’”  And the state of North Carolina also receives a gratuitous slap as an allegedly spendthrift state “widely held as a paragon for [sic] higher education systems” yet “it leads Florida by only two percentage points in…the proportion of its citizens who hold associate degrees or higher.”

The lifestyle quote also appeared in a New York Times story that correctly pointed out that support jobs in all colleges, public and private, have been growing. But not all of that growth is directed at pampering students.

“The growth in support staff included some jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, like environmental sustainability officers and a broad array of information technology workers,” the Times reported. “The support staff category includes many different jobs, like residential-life staff, admissions and recruitment officers, fund-raisers, loan counselors and all the back-office staff positions responsible for complying with the new regulations and reporting requirements colleges face.” And not a few of those requirements have to do with documenting the metric-driven results dictated by governors and legislatures.

Differentiated Tuition

But what about the merits of differentiated tuition? The task force wants to lower tuition for “high-wage, high-demand (market determined demand) degree programs, as identified by the Legislature.” This phrase appears repeatedly, verbatim, throughout the draft report. The success of the plan will be measured by the following:

1. More degrees in “strategic areas of importance”;
2. Higher percentage of grads who become employed or who continue their education;
3. More grads who attain employment at a higher salary rate; and
4. More “efficiencies” that lower the cost for institutions and students.

The draft somewhat vaguely identifies the “important” degree programs: 111 in STEM subjects; 28 in Globalization (whatever that may be); 21 in health professions; 19 in education (but only in Math and Sciences); and 9 in security and emergency services.

For perspective on these ideas, we recommend Should Science Majors Pay Less for College Than Art Majors? , an article in the Atlantic by Jordan Weissmann; More STEM Majors Won’t Solve Higher Education’s Problems, an article by Elizabeth Popp Berman that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education; and Why STEM Is Not Enough (and why we still need the humanities) in the Washington Post, by Cathy N. Davidson, Paula Barker Duffy, Martha Wagner Weinberg, and Valerie Strauss.

“First, you need to take it on faith that the government is capable of divining which majors are going to be the most marketable year after year,” Weissmann writes.  “Second, you need to believe that there are a large number of talented undergrads who could hack it in these subjects, but are choosing easier majors instead.”

“Meanwhile,” Weissmann adds, “it’s not clear that hoards of potential engineers and computer scientists are shunning the campus lab in order to go read Baudelaire instead. Though I haven’t seen state-level data, the vast majority of bachelor’s degrees awarded in this country go to students who study business, science, engineering, and health. The kids today already approach college with a fairly pre-professional mindset.”

Berman notes that “there’s no reason to think this would help Florida economically. If the state wants to align higher education with the needs of business, it should take a look at surveys of employers, who indicate, year after year, that what they most want from college grads is “the ability to effectively communicate” and “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills”—classic hallmarks of a liberal arts education. And studies like Academically Adrift show that it’s the humanities and social sciences, as well as the natural sciences, that lead to measurable improvements in critical thinking.”

The Washington Post article cites Hunter Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities and the former president of both Cornell and the University of Iowa, as believing that the humanities and arts actually help contribute to alleviating our national STEM teacher and research crisis.

“Whereas a high percentage of students who come to college wanting to major in science and engineering drop out and go into business-related social sciences, this is not nearly so much the case at liberal arts colleges,” the Post says.

According to the Post, in the “nation’s most selective liberal arts colleges, a higher percentage of students go on to graduate and professional degrees in STEM fields than is the case at the nation’s major research universities. Integrated liberal arts knowledge, where STEM is a vital component of a larger curriculum that includes a range of literacies, creative expression, and the arts, seems to be ideal for developing future STEM teachers, practitioners, and researchers.”

The same can be said of honors colleges and programs in larger institutions, where the curriculum and “lifestyle” reflect the best in liberal arts education. Honors education does not imitate a factory operation designed to meet an instrumental, external demand but instead embraces the words of a renowned Greek philosopher, whose own method has become a model of effective pedagogy: “Education is the kindling of a flame,” Socrates said,” not the filling of a vessel.”

John Willingham, Editor

Leading Public Universities for Undergraduate Research

We are about to head out to Boston for the annual conference of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), and one of the most exciting features of the conference is the presentation of undergraduate research by honors students from across the nation.   So this is a good time to list the most recent U.S. News listings of the best major public universities for undergraduate research, an area in which most public honors programs excel.

The number of public flagship institutions on the list doubled over last year to include 10 in the current list.

The magazine lists 50 universities based on a national survey of 1,500 college presidents, deans, and chief academic officers.  The magazine lists the schools alphabetically, and below are the leading public institutions that made the list:

  • Arizona
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia Tech
  • UC Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Special congratulations to Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, UC Berkeley, and Wisconsin for making the list two years in a row!


STEM Majors: Faculty Reputation May Be Especially Important

From time to time we become mildly wonkish and write about the implications of some of our data, including information that we did not include in A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs.

Recently, we have been looking at correlations between faculty reputation and honors curricula on the one hand, and the attainment of prestigious scholarships, such as Rhodes, Truman, Goldwater, Fulbright, and National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research grants on the other.

A significant correlation that stands out is that between faculty reputation and prestigious NSF grants, awarded for research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and, to a lesser extent, research in the social sciences.  

We did not find that our data for honors curricula correlated significantly with the attainment of NSF grants.  This does not mean, however, that participation in honors programs is not important to STEM majors, for honors programs are the surest way to connect serious undergraduates with research opportunities supervised by high-quality faculty.  In addition, of course, honors curricula typically provide more scope and depth to the overall education of all honors students.

We also found a lesser but still significant correlation between faculty reputation and the attainment of Fulbright Student awards, given in a variety of disciplines.  Again, the correlation of these awards with curricula was minimal; but the same access to strong faculty mentors via involvement in honors, along with the broader honors education, still points to advantages in pursuing honors.

The impact of honors curricula is clear, however, when it comes to Truman and Goldwater awards, and when curricula are correlated with a metric that combines all prestigious scholarships (including Rhodes, Marshall, Gates, and Udall) except for NSF grants.  Honors curricula are a stronger factor than faculty reputation with respect to the combined scholars metric, but both curricula and reputation are important.

It is interesting that curricula correlate with the undergraduate Goldwater awards, also given for STEM research, but not with the NSF grants.  The impact of faculty reputation was minimal when correlated to Truman Scholarships.

So what is the “take home” message from all this number-crunching?   For STEM majors,  strong faculty along with honors research opportunities are probably as important as the general honors curriculum. Departmental honors, with a thesis requirement, are also important if the honors program does not require a thesis.



The Value of Honors Contract Courses: It Depends

Some honors programs and colleges make liberal use of honors contract courses, which allow a student to receive honors credit for taking a non-honors class if the student and professor agree on additional requirements–often a paper or research project–and honors staff confer formal approval on the contract arrangement.

Whether the contract courses are worthy additions to honors education depends on the following factors:

  • the reasons that the courses are offered;
  • the substance of the additional requirement for honors credit;  and
  • the frequency of the contract courses.

If faculty productivity requirements reward departments and individual faculty for teaching large numbers of students, then honors contracts may allow faculty to receive credit for teaching a large section and also allow the honors credit for the section.  This approach may be defensible if budget cuts  or productivity requirements leave no other alternative, or if the university as a whole offers smaller, high-quality classes to most of its students, whether or not the students are in the honors program.

Using contract courses primarily as a means of circumventing faculty involvement in honors-only courses, however, could well be a sign that the program lacks strong support from the departments, the administration, or both.

But if a culture of excellence is pervasive at a university, then the honors contracts may be more defensible.  Honors students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, might be able to contract for a large number of classes that are relatively small and of high quality, but that are not formally designated as honors-only classes.  While this arrangement may lead to claims that the honors program is not sufficiently distinct from the university as a whole, the result is nevertheless likely to be a substantive experience.

In any case, honors contract courses should in fact be substantive.  If an additional paper is required for honors credit, then the paper should be of considerable length and reflect serious scholarship.  The stronger the requirement, the higher the likelihood that the professor and student have a higher degree of collaboration.  In such cases, the contract courses mix tutorial and class instruction, perhaps even to a greater extent than would a regular honors course.

On the other hand, if honors contract courses are the dominant element in the honors curriculum, it is difficult to see how the faculty involvement could reach the high level discussed above.  For if that level of involvement could be attained, why would it not result in more actual honors courses instead of an excess of contract courses?








UMass Amherst: Public Excellence Amid Private Elites

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has the unenviable challenge of carving out its own place of prominence amid some of the most elite private universities in the entire world. There is growing evidence that the university, along with its Commonwealth Honors College, is doing just that.

The Times Higher Education world rankings of research universities has consistently ranked UMass at number 64 or better in the world–higher than some elite private institutions in the New England neighborhood. The Times also ranked the UMass disciplines of life sciences and physical sciences at number 32 and 48, respectively.

Other highly ranked academic departments at UMass are computer science, sociology, earth (geo) sciences, English, psychology, education, kinesiology and linguistics.

The UMass Commonwealth Honors College has for 18 years hosted the Undergraduate Research Conference, which brings together more than 800 young researchers from across the state to present their research work to their peers and a wider audience.

Further evidence of undergraduate research opportunities comes from the six to eight-credit year-long Capstone Experience, which “is a comprehensive, research-intensive thesis or project of original scholarship. Typically completed in the senior year, it is a chance for honors students to engage in rigorous scholarship and to explore an academic interest in depth.”

The UMass prominence in world rankings ties in with its International Scholars Program, which “allows honors students of any major participating in any of the university’s over 400 approved study-abroad programs in more than 60 countries to form an intellectual cohort, providing a structured opportunity to reflect on and share their international experiences and complete research linking their study abroad experiences to their larger academic goals.”

Prospective honors students should be excited to know that a new, 500,000 square-foot, 6-building honors college complex will open to students in fall 2013. Located on central campus, it is next door to the new rec center and a 5-minute walk to the main library. The residential complex will have 1,500 beds, including 600 in two-person rooms and another 900 in suites or apartments.

World University Rankings 2011-2012: the Top Publics

Note: there is a new post for the current rankings at Times Higher Ed World University Rankings 2012-2013: The Top Publics on this site.

According to the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UC Berkeley is 10th in the world and UCLA is 13th, making them the highest ranked American public universities in the survey.

The Times rankings place a strong emphasis on research and have a somewhat lesser focus on teaching, with the latter measured mostly by academic reputation (15% for teaching) and faculty to student ratios. The research metric derives from the volume of research and the number of citations assigned to research publications; the citations count for a whopping 30% of the total scores. Academic reputation for research counts for 18% of the total. With more than 17,000 responses, the rankings do have a lot at their disposal when it comes to assessing research and academic reputation.

It is interesting to note that the U.S. News rankings list 16 public universities in the top 50 nationwide, while the Times rankings list 13 in the top 50 while considering many more highly competitive institutions all over the world. Again, the difference is mainly due to the Times rankings’ placing such an emphasis on research.

Overall, the UC system has five campuses that ranked in the top 50 in the world.

All U.S. public universities in the Times top 50 are below, along with their rankings in subject areas such as engineering/technology, life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, and arts/humanities. Physical sciences include mathematics, physics, and chemistry; life sciences include biology, zoology, agriculture, and botany.

The rankings may be useful for prospective students whose majors may be more likely to take them abroad at some point in their careers or who are interested in postgraduate research.

The world ranking is listed first, then the name of the university, and then the world subject rankings.  (Not all of the 13 public universities ranked overall in the top 50 in the world also have rankings in the top 50 in every subject area.)

10–UC Berkeley: engineering/tech (4), life sciences (6), physical sciences (3), social sciences (13), arts/humanities (8)

13–UCLA: engineering/tech (8), life sciences (10), physical sciences (9), arts/humanities (14)

18–Michigan: engineering/tech (14), life sciences (19), physical sciences (16), social sciences (7), arts/humanities (13)

24–Georgia Tech: engineering/tech (11), physical sciences (35)

25–Washington: life sciences (13), physical sciences (15), social sciences (12), arts/humanities (22)

27–Wisconsin: engineering/tech (22), life sciences (20), physical sciences (15), social sciences (12), arts/humanities (22)

29–UT Austin:  engineering/tech (13), physical sciences (21), social sciences (22), arts/humanities (20)

31–Illinois: engineering/tech (16), life sciences (39), physical sciences (22), social sciences (28)

33–UC San Diego: engineering/tech (24), life sciences (16), physical sciences (37), arts/humanities (40)

35–UC Santa Barbara: engineering/tech (16), life sciences (34), physical sciences (19), social sciences (48)

38–UC Davis: life sciences (18)

42–Minnesota: engineering/tech (29), life sciences (19), physical sciences (45), social sciences (21), arts/humanities (13)

45–North Carolina: life sciences (35), social sciences (23), arts/humanities (23)

Other public universities that are not among the top 50 overall but that did earn rankings in the top 50 in subject areas are listed below:

51–Penn State: engineering/tech (36), life sciences (39)

57–Ohio State: engineering/tech (42), social sciences (29), arts/humanities (46)

59–Pitt: arts/humanities (25)

64–UMass: life sciences (32), physical sciences (48)

77–Colorado: physical sciences (25)

81–Rutgers: arts/humanities (15)

94–Maryland: social sciences (45)

97–Arizona: arts/humanities (32)

98–Purdue: engineering/tech (40)

UC Irvine and Michigan State were also ranked in the top 100 in the world,  at number 86 and 96 respectively.  Indiana University, at number 123, is highly ranked in the social sciences–35th in the world.  It is important to remember that even being included among the 400 universities included in the survey is a great honor considering the huge number of universities worldwide.

Ohio University Honors Tutorial College: Unique, Creative, Productive

The name captures the uniqueness of honors education at Ohio University: Honors Tutorial College. The college has 203 professors, called “tutors,” who work with about 240 honors tutorial students either in very small groups or one-on-one.

The college is one of the fifteen additional public university honors programs that we hope to include in the 2014 edition of our Review . The programs are offered at the following universities: Colorado State, Florida State, George Mason, Kansas State, Kentucky, LSU, Miami of Ohio, Ohio University, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Temple,Tennessee, UC Riverside, and Utah.

For anyone who may associate the word “tutor” with those persons who assist struggling students, it is time to banish that conception from your mind. The students at the HTC are not there to catch up but to leap farther ahead.

Students at the honors college–officially called “tutees”– can choose from among 32 courses of study, and each discipline has a director of studies, a full-time professor in the chosen department who coordinates honors tutorials.

The college web site has an essay called “Something Completely Different,” and prospective students are urged to read it. “The purpose of this document,” the essay begins, “is to give some guidance about how HTC is different and why those differences matter. If you get one thing out of this piece of paper it should be the following: for 99% of the individuals who end up matriculating in the Honors Tutorial College learning by tutorial is vastly different from any other form of educational methodology they have encountered.
[Emphasis in original.]

Although located in the town of Athens, about an hour and a half southeast of Columbus, Ohio University is less influenced by its Athenian namesake than by the two most famous universities in England:

“The Honors Tutorial College (HTC) is based on the centuries old tutorial system of undergraduate education developed at Oxford and Cambridge universities in Great Britain. Ohio University is the only institution in the United States with a degree-granting college incorporating all the essential features of the traditional tutorial system.

“Tutees gain important fundamental knowledge, hone essential skills, and begin to develop an understanding of what inspires them.

“Tutors often have their own intellectual horizons expanded by the observations and questions of students who bring fresh perspectives to familiar subjects.”

The tutorial process puts the student at center stage, with a great responsibility for showing creativity, initiative, persistence, and precision. They must learn not only the material at hand but also the minds and habits of their tutors, a process which requires the sort of creative anticipation and planning that is the frequent task of accomplished people in their careers.

Students must meet with tutors at least once a week for a minimum of 50 minutes. But do not think that this makes the tutorial classes easier. The preparation and planning necessary for each meeting can be daunting.

Discussing research papers with tutors is a major part of the work, placing a high premium on the ability to organize and articulate reasoned positions. In the lab context, students work directly with research scientists and lab supervisors, often on projects that have immediate impact.

One such student was Nyssa Adams, a recent graduate of the HTC, and now a student in the combined MD/Ph.D program at the Baylor University School of Medicine, one of the nation’s top medical schools. While at the HTC, Nyssa began working on research to improve cancer drugs used to fight ovarian cancer.

In writing papers and discussing them in tutorials, Nyssa developed an increased “respect for research,” not only the difficulties involved, but the exciting challenges it offered to her. Having begun college with an interest in a different field, she made the change to research, giving credit to Jan Hodson of the honors staff who helped Nyssa to realize that “there’s no reason for me not to succeed.”

Working so closely with professors gives students interested in science multiple opportunities “to find your lab” and “dig into research,” Nyssa says. Her own digging made her one of the outstanding undergrad researchers at HTC, and a student/scholar with the confidence and ability to earn the two doctorates she is seeking.

The HTC offers its own degrees, including degrees in business, fine arts, and journalism. The curriculum, while flexible and reliant on individual choices, typically turns out to be extensive and demanding: most students finish with approximately 200 quarter hours, of which about 48 are in tutorials or seminars.

The minimum admission requirements for the HTC are ACT/30, SAT/1300/GPA top 10%. The actual averages for HTC admits is SAT verbal 683, quantitative 664, for a total of 1347.
Unlike many honors programs, the HTC makes most of the information about the college readily available on the web site.

HTC students have the option to live in the Read-Johnson Scholars Complex on the East Green of the campus, an air-conditioned central location with dining and laundry facilities nearby. One excellent feature is a sink in each room.

Students may also live in Hoover Hall on the South Green, perhaps not as centrally located but still a great option if students prefer “mod” room arrangements–a combination of single and double rooms with a central living area, all shared by six students.

Public University Leaders in NSF, Fulbright Awards, 2011-2012

The University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin lead public universities in the number of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships awarded in the last two years, with UC Berkeley far in front. The University of Michigan and the University of Washington lead public universities in Fulbright Student Awards.

NSF fellowships are for research in science, engineering, and the social sciences. Fulbright scholarships are for work in foreign countries and cover a broader range of disciplines.

In this post, we are not limiting our report to the 50 universities we follow, but will list awards for all leading public universities, including the University of California, Berkeley.

A more detailed discussion of these awards and the relative performance of public and private universities will appear as a separate page on the home menu.

Leaders in NSF Awards:

1. UC Berkeley
2. UT Austin
3. Washington
4. Georgia Tech
5. Michigan
6. Wisconsin
7. Florida
7. Illinois
10. Maryland
11. UC Davis
12. Arizona
12. UC San Diego
14. Minnesota
15. Ohio State

Leaders in Fulbright Student Awards

1. Michigan
2. Washington
3. Arizona State
4. North Carolina
5. UC Berkeley
6. Maryland
6. Rutgers
8. Arizona
9. Illinois
10. Pitt
11. Wisconsin
12. UCLA
13. Minnesota
14. Georgia
14. Kansas