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.

Florida State Honors Program: Fast-Track to Advanced Degrees

Talented students in a hurry to obtain medical degrees or master’s degrees might want to consider the Florida State University Honors Program, which has special options available for honors students who qualify.

The program also has a pre-law option that enables honors students to shadow law school classes and attend functions related to the law school while they are undergrads; the students are then guaranteed admission to the FSU College of Law if they meet the admission requirements.

The honors program itself is selective: the average SAT/ACT is 2070/31. The GPA requirement is difficult to report because FSU adjusts high school GPAs according to a somewhat complicated formula:

“The Office of Admissions recalculates all grade point averages — we do not use the GPAs listed on your high school transcript or report card. Only academic subjects will be used in the recalculation. Grades of C- or better in dual enrollment, AICE, AP, and IB coursework will receive 1 full bonus point in the recalculation; grades of C- or better in honors, pre-AICE, pre-AP, and pre-IB will receive 1/2 bonus point. For repeated courses, we will only forgive a low grade if the exact course has been repeated (i.e., Algebra I will not replace an Algebra I honors grade — both courses will be used in the recalculation).”

Outstanding students can also apply to one of FSU’s “2+3” programs that offer both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. (Many master’s degrees normally require two years for completion, so five years is an abbreviated length for both degrees.)

“The combined bachelors/masters degree programs provide academically talented students an opportunity to complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in a shorter time span. These programs allow students to double-count graduate courses for both degrees, thus reducing the time it would normally take.”

There are 16 departments that allow the master’s fast track: computer science, history, math, philosophy, science-teaching, statistics, marketing, communication, criminology, recreation management, students with exceptionalities, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, nursing, public health, and public administration.

The honors pre-med tract in some cases allows students to obtain bachelor’s and medical degrees in seven years instead of eight. The pre-law does not appear to speed up the process of obtaining a law degree, but does, as noted above, lead to admission and provide realistic previews of the law school experience.

The honors program includes many of the best features of honors education, including an interesting curriculum, smaller classes, priority registration (honors students register with grad students), and honors residence halls.

The FSU program 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.

The Ideology Behind University Privatization

With tuition continuing to rise at public colleges and universities across the country in order to compensate for the decline in state funding, one group advocating reform seems more interested in fulfilling an ideological agenda than in actually working to find reasonable solutions to the problem.

Public universities can learn a great deal from the business community about how to focus on performance and efficiency, and initiate sensible, beneficial changes. Often, however, media pundits and some academicians co-opt the practical, commonsense arguments and add their own radical ideological twist.

In a recent article in the highly respected Governing magazine (“Public Universities Reach a Tipping Point”), Peter Harkness writes that the “higher education system’s vocal critics are increasing, particularly among conservatives. Political commentator Pat Buchanan is probably the most blunt: Higher education, he asserts, is ‘one of the biggest rackets going today.’

“The academic underpinnings for that critical view come most prominently from Richard Vedder, Harkness continues, “a self-described ‘dyed-in-the-wool conservative’ who is a retired economics professor from Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. His message is that state support for higher education is falling fast, so the schools are being forced to privatize, which is a good thing. ‘I’m increasingly thinking the government should get out of the business of higher education,’ he has said…”

In fact, Vedder has been thinking this way for many years.   He is an influential critic of public universities, with frequent contributions to the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.  He has been a principal force in the annual Forbes’ “America’s Top Colleges” rankings, notable for their preference for private institutions and their emphasis on postgraduate salaries as a strong indicator of quality.

Vedder is also a proponent of the Austrian School of Economics, which, at least in its American manifestations, argues that market forces rule and that government has no business in…well, business, or in just about anything else.   This is all well and good, as far as individual views go, but the point here is that the position advocated by Vedder, Pat Buchanan, and others is narrow and ideological in the extreme, to the point where not only the decline but the death of many public universities can be dismissed with a shrug.

On January 12 of this year, Vedder concluded one of his regular pieces for Forbes with these words: “like the market-driven private sector, higher education will face something rarely seen in the past: the creation of obvious winners and losers, with the latter group of schools facing, in many cases, extinction.”

The statement encapsulates the ability of ideological critics to use the language of business while embracing radical solutions.  Yes, in business there are “winners and losers” and many business suffer “extinction.”  But many in the business community, especially in Texas where Vedder’s attacks on UT Austin and Texas A&M have brought educators and business leaders together in support of the universities, are pragmatic and concerned enough to see that the Darwinian demise of a large number of public universities is not good for the state, the nation–or for business.

And, while failed business are often replaced fairly quickly by new ventures, the same process is unlikely for universities, leaving many fewer to choose from and fewer students able to afford the ones that remain.

(Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of UT Austin.)

Vedder has repeatedly cited the University of Virginia as an institution headed for privatization. And it is true that UVA only receives about 7 percent of its funding from the state and is raising $3 billion in private donations. The UVA student body now resembles those of the Ivy League more than it does those of other public universities, with only 8 percent of students coming from low-income families, versus 20 percent in other Virginia universities.

In an article by Julie Davis Bell for the National Conference of State Legislators, UVA economist David Breneman, a specialist in the economics of education, said that some highly selective and well-funded schools can survive by going the privatization route whole other schools less fortunate have little to gain and a great deal to lose. “The blunt fact,” he said, “is that there are many more of the latter than the former.”

One example of where Vedder’s ideology might lead can be found in the private, for-profit schools that he so frequently promotes.  In a March post on the friendly site about a new report on the concerns of university leaders, he wrote that to him “the most interesting finding is that public and private schools have somewhat different top-level issues they ponder, and that the for-profit schools are clearly more student-centered in their concerns than the not-for-profits, a marked contrast to what to some is conventional wisdom.” [Emphasis in original.]

It is true that the for-profit schools are now doing a better job of retaining students through the first year and of seeing students complete short degree or certificate programs.  But when it comes to four-year degrees, the outcome is very different.

At about the same time Vedder was writing his article on “extinction,” the National Center for Education Research found that “a sample of students enrolling at for-profit colleges in 2004 were making, on average, between $1,800 to $2,000 less annually than students attending other types of institutions. Six years after entering college, for-profit students are also more likely to be unemployed — and to be unemployed for periods longer than three months.”

The report also found that students at for-profit schools default at a much higher rate: 26 percent with loans of $5,000–$10,000 in student loans defaulted. At community colleges, the rate was 10 percent and at four-year schools it was 7 percent. Students at for-profit schools with loans of $10,000–$20,000 in loans defaulted at a rate of 16 percent, compared to 3 percent at community colleges and 2 percent at four-year colleges.

As a radical solution, some might like these outcomes, so long as the ideology can be served.  But for business and university leaders seeking practical solutions, it doesn’t look so good.

John Willingham

State Cuts Hit Honors Programs and Affect U.S. News Rankings

State funding for higher education fell by almost $6 billion from 2011 to 2012, and the impact on public honors programs and the U.S. News rankings of state universities is significant.

Although a lot of the drop-off in state support has come about because federal stimulus monies are no longer flowing to universities, the harsh truth is that state appropriations in 2012 are almost $3 billion less than they were in 2007, just before the severe recession hit and well before stimulus funds were available.

Only ten states saw a net increase between 2007 and 2012, and some of the states hit the hardest are those with universities among the fifty that we follow on this site.

(This information comes from the Grapevine Annual Compilation of Data on State Fiscal Support for Higher Education, produced by the Center for Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, James C. Palmer, Editor.)

The immediate impact on many honors programs will be an increase in class sizes, a wrenching development because smaller class sizes are at the center of the public honors mission to give exceptional students an experience that approximates or surpasses that of students at leading liberal arts and private research universities.

As a part of our lengthy analysis of U.S. News rankings, we have observed that the relationship of the “Financial Resources” and “Faculty Resources” categories utilized by the magazine provide interesting insights into the way the ample resources of many private universities give them such a dominant presence in the rankings. (In separate posts, we discuss the decline of public universities that are among the top 25 in the rankings.)

According to the magazine, the Financial Resources category (10% of the total) is essentially “the average spending per full-time-equivalent student on instruction, research, public service, academic support, student services and institutional support during the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years,” including spending for graduate students. For reasons that are not clear from the explanation, U.S. News also includes as a part of spending the “operations and maintenance” expenses “(for public institutions only.)”

The Faculty Resources category (20% of the total) assigns about two-thirds of its total points for faculty pay and the percentage of classes with 19 or fewer students. The faculty pay is adjusted for cost-of-living variations.

The key to the two categories is the ratio of Faculty Resources to Financial Resources: in other words, how much of the total money available is used for faculty pay and for a sufficient number of faculty (with the highest level of degree) to keep class sizes small.

What budget cuts do to most public universities is make them choose between having a competitive (and higher-paid) faculty that will maintain or boost academic quality or having a greater number of less-qualified faculty so that they can offer more–and smaller–classes.   And, almost always, taking only one of these actions requires an increase in tuition.

The well-heeled private research universities are not burdened with this painful choice, and tuition increases are more easily offset for those in need of assistance. On the other hand, since the 50 state universities we track are the best pubic universities in the nation, their choice is generally to hold on to the quality that they have struggled to achieve, even if it means seeing their class sizes go up. And…their U.S. News rankings go down.

Indeed, their rankings would likely suffer regardless of the choice they make between quality faculty and class size. Another, and lesser reason for emphasizing faculty quality in this case is that the U.S. News category of Academic Reputation, at 22.5% of the total, is the most influential single category in the rankings.

As evidence of these relationships, here are some numbers showing the ratio of Faculty Resources to Financial Resources for the 36 leading private institutions and the 14 public institutions that we follow and that are also in the top 50 U.S. News Rankings:

The average ratio of Faculty Resources to Financial Resources for the elite private universities is 1.63 to 1.00, while the ratio for the 14 public institutions is .914 to 1.00. In other words, the private schools are able to spend a disproportionate amount of their money on the areas that U.S. News values the most: faculty compensation, number of faculty per student, and the enhancement of academic reputation.

The two lowest ratios among the private universities are those for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (.812 to 1.00) and Wake forest (.851 to 1.00). By contrast, only six of the public universities have ratios higher than that of Wake Forest.

So there we have the unhappy equation for public universities in the current climate of state spending reductions: severe cuts+larger classes=general decline in rankings and less interactive honors education.  What this means for the nation is that excellence in higher education is becoming increasingly restrictive.

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.

Oklahoma State Honors College: An Excellent Option

The Honors College at Oklahoma State University has many strong features, including an honors curriculum that makes the college competitive with the leading programs we have already identified in our research.

The college is one of the fifteen additional public university honors programs that we hope to include in the next 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, and Utah.

We have noticed that even though the average size of the honors programs we survey is about 1,800 students, some of the best, in terms of curriculum and honors features, are smaller, with approximately 1,000 students enrolled. The honors college enrolls 1,299 students, which may be close to the optimum size for coordinating honors curricula, housing, and advising.

The curriculum at the honors college requires completion of 39 honors credit hours for the Honors College Degree, “the highest academic distinction that may be earned by undergraduates at Oklahoma State University.”

The Honors College Degree includes the 21-hour requirement for the General Honors Award (one honors track) and the 12-hour Departmental or College Honors Award (the departmental honors track, which includes a thesis and oral defense). Additional hours for students earning the Honors College Degree may come from more undergraduate research, study abroad, internships, community service, or AP credits, on a 1:3 ratio. Recipients of this highest degree also give a public presentation related to their thesis.

Another strength of the Honors College is the experience of its director and staff. The director is Dr. Robert Spurrier, who is a past president of the National College Honors Council (NCHC). Assistant Director Jessica Roark is chair of the NCHC Honors Advising Committee. In fact, all six members of the honors staff are graduates of an honors college or honors program. As far as we know, no other college or program can make this claim.

Oklahoma State grads also perform well in the attainment of prestigious undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, especially the undergrad Goldwater awards in the STEM subjects, the postgrad Truman awards in a variety of disciplines, and Udall awards, which are mostly related to environmental studies.

If Oklahoma State had been included in the current edition of our book that evaluated 50 leading university honors programs, it would have tied for seventh in Udall awards and eleventh in Truman awards.

Regarding entrance requirements, the minimum score and GPA for entering freshmen is an ACT composite score of 27 (SAT 1220 on critical reading and mathematics only) with a 3.75 high school grade point average (weighted grade point averages certified by the high school may be used) if the application is submitted by February 1. Students who fall just short of these criteria may submit an essay in response to one of several prompts provided by The Honors College.

“Transfer students and continuing OSU students) are admitted on the basis of their college grade point averages (fewer than 60 credit hours, 3.30; 60-93 credit hours, 3.40; 94 or more credit hours, 3.50).

“Honors articulation agreements are in place with a number of two-year colleges in Oklahoma, and transfer honors credit from other institutions is accepted as well.”

The college offers approximately 80 honors sections each semester, “including both honors sections of regular departmental course offerings (Calculus, Chemistry, English Literature, History, Philosophy, etc.) and special HONR-prefix honors seminars (most of which are interdisciplinary and team-taught)…”

Up to 300 honors students may choose to live in the honors dorm, Stout Hall, which features in-room sinks in combination with traditional hall baths, except for the fourth floor, which has single rooms. Stout Hall is a smoke and alcohol-free facility. Stout Coffee and Cafe is located in the basement and serves coffee, sandwiches, soups, and salads. There are also honors classrooms in Stout Hall. Stout Hall would have easily scored above the median in our metric for honors housing if the honors college had been included in our current survey.

Which Public Universities Send the Most Grads to Ivies for Postgrad Work?

Based on an analysis of National Science Foundation research grants for 2011 and 2012, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas at Austin lead public universities in the number of students who go on to study science, engineering, and social sciences at Ivy schools and other prestigious private graduate programs.

In a previous post, “Public Universities that Ivy Leaguers Choose for Grad School,” we discussed the leading public choices for Ivy students awarded NSF grants. This post looks at the reverse phenomenon: public university students who received NSF grants to do research at elite private universities.

About 29% of the graduates of public universities who receive NSF grants go on to prestigious private schools for grad work. This is almost exactly the same percentage of Ivy grads who opt for public research universities for their graduate work.

Please bear in mind that many more students from public universities attend elite private schools, even in science and engineering fields, but do so without NSF grants.

UC Berkeley stands out either way you view the analysis: far more grads of elite private schools choose Berkeley for graduate work than they do any other public institution, and Berkeley sends a much higher number of its grads on to the elite private schools for research than do other public universities.

The private universities included are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Chicago, Penn, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern.

Below is a list of the leading public universities who send the most graduates with NSF grants to study at elite private institutions:

UC Berkeley

Harvard (12), Princeton (1), Columbia (4), Stanford (16), MIT (18), Caltech (5), Cornell (6), Brown (1), Duke (4), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (3)


Harvard (4), Princeton (2), Stanford (2), MIT (6), Caltech (2), Chicago (2), Brown (1), Duke (2), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (3)

UT Austin

Harvard (1), Princeton (2), Columbia (1), Stanford (7), MIT (7), Caltech (2), Chicago (1), Cornell (1), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

Washington (tie with Wisconsin)

Harvard (5), Yale (2), Columbia (1), Stanford (2), MIT (4), Penn (1), Cornell (1), Duke (2), Northwestern (1)

Wisconsin (tie with Washington)

Harvard (4), Princeton (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (1), MIT (4), Caltech (1), Penn (1), Brown (1), Duke (2), Johns Hopkins (2), Northwestern (1)

Arizona (tied with Illinois)

Harvard (2), Yale (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (7), MIT (1), Caltech (1), Cornell (2), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

Illinois (tied with Arizona)

Yale (2), Columbia (1), Stanford (2), MIT (6), Caltech (2), Chicago (1), Cornell (1), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

UC San Diego

Harvard (3), Yale (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (4), MIT (3), Caltech (1), Cornell (1), Northwestern (1)

Maryland (tied with UCLA)

Harvard (1), Stanford (1), MIT (2), Caltech (1), Penn (1), Cornell (1), Duke (4), Johns Hopkins (2), Northwestern (1)

UCLA (tied with Maryland)

Harvard (1), Princeton (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (4), MIT (1), Caltech (2), Penn (1), Duke (1), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (1)


Harvard (2), Yale (1), Princeton (1), Columbia (1), Stanford (3), Chicago (1), Penn (1), Duke (1), Johns Hopkins (1)

Georgia Tech

Columbia (1), Stanford (4), MIT (4), Cornell (2)

The following universities are tied, at 10 each:


Columbia (1), Stanford (1) MIT (2), Chicago (1), Penn (1), Duke (1), Johns Hopkins (1), Northwestern (2)


Harvard (1), Yale (1), MIT (1), Caltech (3), Cornell (2), Duke (1), Northwestern (1)

Ohio State

Harvard (1), Yale (1), MIT (3), Cornell (2), Duke (1), Northwestern (2)

The following universities each had four or more NSF recipients who attended one of the private institutions listed above:

UC Santa Barbara (9)
Arizona State (9)
Rutgers (9)
UC Davis (8)
Penn State (7)
Pitt (7)
Clemson (6)
NC State (6)
Stony Brook (6)
Alabama (5)
North Carolina (5)
UC Irvine (5)
Georgia (4)
Indiana (4)
Massachusetts (4)
South Carolina (4)
Texas A&M (4)

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

How Much Do U.S. News Rankings Favor Private Universities?

Over the years, U.S. News has established its annual “Best Colleges” report as the most important ranking guide, but our analysis of the rankings indicates that some leading public universities have not been ranked as highly as they deserve to be. The most striking examples are UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan. In general, however, the U.S. News rankings are relatively fair to public universities, given the criteria that the magazine uses.

In the early years of the Best Colleges report, public universities were frequent visitors to the top 25. But North Carolina fell from 20th in 1991 to 29th in 2012; the University of Virginia from 18th to 25th; and U.C. Berkeley from 13th to 21st. In the years since 1991, the five leading public universities have fallen seven places in the rankings.

One reason for the declining presence of leading public universities among the top ranks of all universities is clear: money. State support for public universities is down sharply, resulting in severe cuts at almost every public institution. And money has a very great deal to do with the U.S. News rankings, often with good reason.

See our Adjusted U.S. News Rankings for the Top 25 Below

The U.S. News category of Faculty Resources, which places a premium on faculty pay and small class size, is one of the most influential factors in achieving a high graduation rate, an extremely important outcome metric in the U.S. News rankings. And Faculty Resources are more in evidence when enrollment is relatively small and funding is generous.

In addition to Faculty Resources, the other factors that have the largest impact on the graduation rate are Academic Reputation and Student Selectivity. Assuming that a high graduation rate is an indisputably significant outcome, we have taken these three factors as being the most important to university rankings, at least in the methodology used by U.S. News.

We do not include the graduation rate itself as a metric because in doing so we would create a magnifying effect; i.e., the graduation rate would multiply an effect that is already strongly present in the other factors. We have also excluded a metric for Alumni Giving and Financial Resources, in part because the former strongly favors private universities and because U.S. News appears to include different components for public universities in the Financial Resources category. Therefore, in essence, we are analyzing the universities in a way that considers the due impact of funding but does not over-emphasize that impact.

Although we analyzed all 52 universities (including ties) that are listed as the top 50 national universities, the results for several public universities ranked lower than 25 appear to be strongly influenced by other factors, including unusually high undergraduate enrollment levels. Some of these schools were ranked higher by U.S News than by our adjusted rankings, and some were ranked lower by U.S. News. Of the latter, it appears that UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara are the most likely to have been underrated, though not because of unusually high undergraduate enrollment levels. The comparative rankings for several schools, public and private, in the lower 25 do not vary significantly (by more than 3 places).

Below is an adjusted ranking of the top 25 national universities in 2012:

University—-2012 Ranking—-Adjusted Ranking

Harvard——-2012 (1)—-Adjusted (1)
Princeton—–2012 (1)—-Adjusted (2)
Yale———-2012 (3)—-Adjusted (2)
Columbia——2012 (4)—-Adjusted (6)
MIT———–2012 (5)—-Adjusted (4)
Stanford——2012 (5)—-Adjusted (5)
Caltech——-2012 (5)—-Adjusted (7)
Penn———-2012 (5)—-Adjusted (8)
Chicago——-2012 (5)—-Adjusted (9)
Duke———-2012 (10)—Adjusted (10)
Dartmouth—–2012 (11)—Adjusted (15)
Northwestern–2012 (12)—Adjusted (11)
Johns Hopkins-2012 (13)—Adjusted (11)
Washington U–2012 (14)—Adjusted (17)
Brown———2012 (15)—Adjusted (11)
Cornell——-2012 (15)—Adjusted (11)
Vanderbilt—-2012 (17)—Adjusted (18)
Rice———-2012 (17)—Adjusted (19)
Notre Dame—-2012 (19)—Adjusted (21)
Emory———2012 (20)—Adjusted (23)
UC Berkeley—2012 (21)—Adjusted (16)
Georgetown—-2012 (22)—Adjusted (21)
Carnegie Mellon-2012 (23)—Adjusted (24)
USC———–2012 (23)—Adjusted (27)
UCLA———-2012 (25)—Adjusted (24)
Virginia——2012 (25)—Adjusted (26)
Michigan——2012 (28)—Adjusted (19)

Public Universities That Ivy-Leaguers Choose for Grad School

It is true that graduates of Ivy League and other elite private universities who continue their studies beyond the bachelor’s level tend to do so at other private elite universities, but it appears that about 30% choose graduate programs at leading public universities, especially at the University of California, Berkeley.

Indeed, many California universities were often in the plans of the new grads. Often the grads were attracted to UC programs in biology, marine sciences, and environmental studies.

We recently analyzed the graduate school choices of 2011 and 2012 recipients of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Grants. Of course, most of the grants are for graduate work in the sciences and in engineering.

Of 723 recipients who were Ivy League grads or grads of other elite private universities (MIT, Caltech, Chicago, Stanford, Duke, etc.), a total of 220 chose to attend graduate school at a public university. Of these, 72–almost one-third–chose UC Berkeley. In second place was the University of Washington with 18. UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, and UC Davis were also favorite choices.

Very generally, grant recipients who chose graduate programs outside of California and Washington tended to be pursuing studies in computer science or engineering more than in the sciences.

Only 6 of the 220 attended public universities that are not included in the 50 major institutions that we follow on this site. Aside from UC Berkeley, those schools were the Universities of Alaska, Idaho, Nevada-Reno, Utah, and Wyoming.

Below is a list of public universities that enrolled three or more NSF grant recipients from the most prestigious private universities:

UC Berkeley(72)
Washington (18)
UC San Diego (14)
UC San Francisco (13)
UC Davis (12)
Michigan (9)
UT Austin (9)
Illinois (7)
UC Santa Barbara (6)
North Carolina (5)
UC Santa Cruz (5)
Georgia Tech (4)
Maryland (4)
Wisconsin (4)
Colorado (3)
NC State (3)
UC Irvine (3)
Virginia (3)