U.S. News 2020: Dept Rank vs Academic Rep vs Overall Rank Plus Social Mobility

The post is by editor John Willingham.

Yes, the title of this post is a mouthful. For years now, I have kept an updated list of the departmental rankings that U.S. News publishes so that I can add them to the biannual profiles I do of honors programs. When the 2020 rankings came out, I wanted to see whether there was any clear relationship between the departmental scores and the academic reputation scores. Then I compared the latest reputation scores with those published in 2015 to see how much had changed. Finally, the table below also includes changes in university rankings and the most recent rankings for social mobility.

(I would welcome comments on this post. Please email editor@publicuniversityhonors.com.)

It appears that the social mobility metric has had some impact, especially if the ranking is very strong, as in the case of many UC campuses and Florida institutions. There is no clear relationship between departmental scores and academic reputation scores. Departmental rankings do have a modest relationship to the overall U.S. News rankings, but there are many inconsistencies. Academic reputation scores do seem to show some “grade inflation” since 2015; often this is the case even when the U.S News ranking has dropped significantly.

The table below includes data for 100 public and private universities.

The cumulative rankings that I do for 15 academic disciplines requires some explanation. U.S. News only ranks graduate programs for most departments. Here are the disciplines for which I have cumulative departmental rankings, using the most recent data (2018): biological sciences; business (undergrad); chemistry, computer science; earth sciences; economics; education; engineering (undergrad);English; history; mathematics; physics; political science; psychology; and sociology.

Not every university has a ranked department in each of the 15 disciplines. I averaged departmental rankings for every university that had at least six ranked departments. For universities with, say, fewer than 12 ranked departments, the total ranking will be artificially high because only the best departments are ranked and I cannot include unranked departents. Most universities have 12-15 departments that are ranked, and so the overall average will be more useful for them. And some of the universities with a small number of ranked departments are specialized, such as Georgia Tech and Caltech. Clearly, even ranking only six or seven departments for those schools and getting a strong result is not misleading.

Universities with fewer than 10 departmental rankings: Colorado School of Mines; Georgia Tech; Miami Ohio; American; Brigham Young; Caltech; Dartmouth; Drexel; Fordham; Georgetown; and RPI.

It should be said that universities with relatively low departmental rankings can legitimately receive high rankings because of other meaningful factors, such as grad and retention rates and class size. Some excellent universities do not have an especially strong research focus or a lot of graduate programs. Dartmouth is one prominent example.

UNIVERSITYAvg Dept RankDept RankRep ScoreRep RankRep ScoreRep DifUS NewsRank Dif2020 Rank  
NAME15 Disciplines 2018Ordinal2020202020152020 v 2015Rank 20202015-2020Soc Mobility
Harvard5.7164.914.9020186
Stanford1.9314.914.9061241
MIT2.7324.914.9034241
Princeton5.3854.914.80.110186
Yale10.9294.854.8030285
UC Berkeley3.224.764.7022-270
Columbia10.2384.764.60.131138
Caltech4.7144.764.60.112-2345
Johns Hopkins21.93194.764.50.2102241
Chicago11.67114.664.606-2335
Cornell13.79134.664.50.117-2224
Penn16.73154.664.40.262241
Duke20.23174.5134.40.110-2254
Brown27.62284.5134.40.1142224
Michigan9.474.5134.40.1254291
Northwestern17.86164.5134.30.294251
Dartmouth51.38574.4174.20.212-1303
UCLA10.8694.3184.20.120313
Carnegie Mellon27.73294.3184.20.1250303
Georgia Tech33.7374.3184.20.1297224
Vanderbilt35.57404.3184.10.217-1291
Virginia27.4274.2224.3-0.128-5328
Rice31.92334.22240.2172204
Georgetown53.75614.22240.224-3241
Notre Dame45.43474.2223.90.315-1322
North Carolina23.79214.1264.10291165
UW Madison12.93124.1264.10461297
WUSTL32.29344.12640.119-5381
Emory45.82494.12640.121-1200
UT Austin14.47144.12640.1485134
NYU25234313.80.2293115
Illinois20.07173.9324.1-0.248-6186
Washington 22.2203.9324-162-14176
USC35.27393.9323.9022-3147
UC Davis28.14303.9323.80.139-19
UC San Diego25.93243.9323.80.137021
William & Mary69363.8373.70.140-7354
Ohio St26.4253.8373.70.1540254
Purdue40.27413.8373.60.2575270
Tufts73.8783.8373.60.229-2328
UC Irvine32.53353.8373.60.23663
Florida48.67523.8373.60.2341434
Penn State27.27263.7433.60.157-9348
Maryland28.8313.7433.60.164-2322
Minnesota24.2223.7433.60.170-1251
Boston College50.27543.7433.60.137-6270
Texas A&M41.6423.7433.60.170-296
Indiana29.93323.7433.60.179-3303
Case Western72.91773.7433.50.240-2214
Boston Univ48.67523.7433.50.2402270
Colorado 33.2363.7433.50.2104-16359
Virginia Tech52.31603.7433.40.374-3322
Wake Forest98.75933.6533.50.1270360
Brandeis63.92683.6533.50.140-5138
UC Santa Barbara35.21383.6533.50.13469
Arizona43443.6533.50.11173195
Georgia 63653.6533.40.25013159
Tulane90.77893.6533.40.24013365
Pitt45.4463.6533.40.2575335
George Washington76.92833.5603.5070-19322
Iowa50.27543.5603.5084-13335
Michigan St42.13433.5603.50841241
RPI62623.5603.40.1402270
Rochester52593.5603.40.1294159
Col School of Mines74.83793.5603.30.2844303
U of Miami85.69873.5603.20.357-9270
Northeastern67.85723.5603.20.3402254
Rutgers43.87453.4683.4062859
Syracuse69.33753.4683.30.154490
Oregon51.43573.4683.30.11042214
Kansas63.87673.4683.30.1130-24377
UMass Amherst48.57513.4683.20.26412186
Arizona St45.67483.4683.20.211712147
Clemson89.6883.4683.20.270-8348
Lehigh106.67983.3763.3050-10270
Stony Brook46.46503.3763.20.191-324
Iowa St50.27543.3763.20.1121-15270
Connecticut69.47763.3763.10.264-6265
Auburn94.36923.3763.10.2107-4380
Tennessee76.77813.3763.10.21042138
SMU109.6993.37630.364-6360
Florida St68.8733.37630.3573880
Missouri76.87813.2833.3-0.1139-40354
Baylor103.09943.2833.2079-8297
American105.83963.2833.10.177-6176
Delaware76.54803.2833.10.191-15360
Miami Oh94.11913.2833.10.191-15369
NC State67.09703.2833.10.18411224
Nebraska67.33713.2833.10.1139-40303
Brigham Young80.22843.28330.277-15291
Utah60.87633.28330.210425186
Fordham105.83963.1923.2-0.174-16351
UC Riverside64.33693.1923.1091221
Alabama124.911003.19230.1153-65377
UC Santa Cruz59.71623.19230.18412
Drexel105953.19230.197-2270
Oklahoma83.4853.19230.1132-26328
Washington St84.5863.19230.1166-28176
George Mason93.67903.19230.1153-25125
UIC63.53663100301321714
MEAN SCORES/RANKS49.9083503.77247.713.6610.10256.96-2.51229.38

 

 

Honors News: August 13, 2015

Have you ever notice that the Academic Reputation scores in the U.S News Best Colleges ranking can be very high for several public universities although their overall ranking is much lower than other schools with less stellar reputations?

Of course, there can be good reasons for this discrepancy: larger class sizes in public universities, lower graduation rates, etc. But…honors colleges and programs within the larger institutions offset the negatives and offer their students opportunities to take advantage of the factors contributing to the strong academic reputations.

First, these are factors to consider if the state university’s academic reputation is much stronger than its overall ranking:

1.  The overall rankings penalize public universities for their typically larger class sizes, but the average class size in the 50 major honors programs we track is only 21.2 students, much smaller than the average class size for the universities as a whole.  Most of these honors classes are lower-division, where the preponderance of large classes is the norm.  Result:  the relatively poor rating the whole university might receive for class size is offset for honors students.

2.  The overall rankings hit some public universities hard for having relatively low retention and graduation percentages, but freshmen retention rates in honors programs are in the 90% range and higher; meanwhile six-year grad rates for honors entrants average 89%–much higher than the average rates for the universities as a whole.  Result: the lower rates for the universities as a whole are offset for honors students.

3.  All public universities suffer in the overall rankings because U.S. News assigns ranking points for both the wealth of the university as a whole and for the impact that wealth has on professors’ salaries, smaller class sizes, etc.  This is a double whammy in its consideration of inputs and outputs separately; only the outputs should be rated.  Result: the outputs for class size (see above) are offset for honors students, and the wealth of the university as an input should not be considered in the first place.

4.  For highly-qualified students interested in graduate or professional school, academic reputation and the ability to work with outstanding research faculty are big advantages. Honors students have enhanced opportunities to work with outstanding faculty members even in large research universities, many of which are likely to have strong departmental rankings in the student’s subject area.  Result: honors students are not penalized for the research focus of public research universities; instead, they benefit from it.

5.  Many wealthy private elites are generous in funding all, or most, need-based aid, but increasingly offer little or no merit aid.  This means that families might receive all the need-based aid they “deserve” according to a federal or institutional calculation and still face annual college costs of $16,000 to $50,000.  On the other hand, national scholars and other highly-qualified students can still receive significant merit aid at most public universities.  Result: if a public university has an academic reputation equal to that of a wealthy private elite, an honors student could be better off financially and not suffer academically in a public honors program.

But…what if the academic reputation of the public university is lower than that of a private school under consideration?   In this case, the public honors option should offer the following offsets:

1. The net cost advantage of the public university, including merit aid, probably needs to be significant.

2.  It is extremely important to evaluate the specific components of the honors program to determine if it provides a major “value-added” advantage–is it, relatively, better than the university as a whole.  Typically, the answer will be yes.  To determine how much better, look at the academic disciplines covered by the honors program, the actual class sizes, retention and graduation rates, research opportunities, and even honors housing and perks, such as priority registration.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.