The UC Universities and U.S. News

The U.S. News rankings for 2016 are  something of a tribute to major University of California universities. For 2016, six UC institutions are among the top 41 national universities, though none is higher than 20th (Berkeley). But if one looks closely at the UC scores in major output categories and in the financial resources category, there are some interesting differences. Academic reputation, though not a “pure” output category, is also discussed below.

As we have noted several times on this site, by assigning weight for the amount of financial resources and for the outputs related to those resources (class size, ratios of students to faculty), the U.S. News rankings magnify wealth. The outputs alone are what should be included.

  • UC Berkeley and UCLA, ranked 20th and 23rd  overall, are strong across the board. At both schools the majority of class sections have 20 students or fewer. Both have strong academic reputations along with high grad and retention rates. What most people might not guess is that UCLA is ranked 20th among all national universities in financial resources, and Berkeley 39th.
  • UC San Diego and UC Davis, ranked 39th and 41st overall in 2016, score well below average among top 20 public universities in the class size metrics. But along with solid grad/retention rates they also rank 21st and 32nd in financial resources, providing them with a boost more typical of private universities. UC San Diego and UC Davis both score 3.8 in the rep metric.
  • UC Irvine, ranked 39th, is well-balanced overall except that its academic reputation is a relatively modest 3.6 out of 5. This compares to UC Berkeley’s 4.7 and UCLA’s 4.2.
  • UC Santa Barbara, meanwhile, has the second lowest academic rep score among the top 20 public schools, 3.5., and ranks only 67th in financial resources. But UCSB gets it done by having more smaller classes and strong grad/retention rates.

Except for some slight dropoffs in scores for academic reputation and the larger classes at Davis and San Diego, the UC campuses prosper in the rankings because they don’t have shortcomings in more than one or two metrics. And only one–UCSB–ranks worse than 60th in the questionable category of financial resources.

Two other factors that help the UC campuses in the rankings is that first-year entrants are highly qualified, both in test scores and class standing. Applicants who are not accepted as freshmen often attend community colleges and Cal State universities, and when they transfer with high GPA’s, they have a proven record that contributes to the high average grad rates at the six UC’s discussed above: 88%.

The UC approach is preferable by far to the automatic admission rules at the University of Texas at Austin, at least from the standpoint of rankings and graduation rates. The legislatively-imposed “top 10% rule” at UT (actually top 8% in 2016) leads to the admission of students whose class standing at a poor high school carries the same weight as the class standing at the most rigorous high schools.

If these students attended less demanding state universities for their first year or two and did extremely well (the California model), their chances of succeeding would likely improve. Many would not be admitted at all as freshmen to a major UC campus regardless of high school class rank because of low test scores or insufficiently demanding high school classes.

Even if UT Austin maintained its (too large) enrollment levels demanded by the legislature, having better qualified freshmen and transfers would kick up the graduation rate (now 81%). The academic reputation of UT (4.0) and, indeed the real strength of its academic departments, should place the university in the top five or six among public research institutions.

The problem in Austin is not UT; the problem is the state legislature a few blocks away.

Note: UT Austin has outstanding honors programs that concentrate the academic excellence at the university and feature much smaller classes: Plan II, Liberal Arts Honors, Business Honors, Engineering Honors, and multiple Natural Science honors programs.

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. In fairness to UT Austin, of which I am an alum, the multiple honors programs there are outstanding and offset the issues with class size and graduation rates by concentrating the excellence of the university.




UC Davis to Combine Davis Honors Challenge and ISHP Honors Program

Editor’s note: The following post, written by Melissa Dittrich, appeared in The California Aggie on March 6, 2014.

The two bodies of the UC Davis University Honors Program (UHP) on campus have developed a plan to become one program in Fall Quarter 2014. The Davis Honors Challenge (DHC) and the Integrated Studies Honors Program (ISHP) will combine into one singular UHP.

Current students enrolled in UHP will have the option to remain in their respective program, but students admitted this fall will be accepted into the new UHP.

Ari Kelman, the University Honors Program Director, said that after becoming the director, he checked in with students and faculty of both DHC and ISHP to evaluate the status of the programs. Although both were running fairly effectively, Kelman said that those involved with the programs were concerned about the UHP being divided.

“Having two distinct honors programs includes a lot of inter-program rivalry,” Kelman said. “DHC students thought students in ISHP are getting more opportunities, and students in ISHP thought the DHC students had more flexibility.”

According to Kelman, students who were recruited into one honors program would question why they were not in the other, and he said the combination of the two programs will reduce confusion and create more interaction between all UHP students.

Janet Sandoval-Reynoso, a first year international relations and linguistics double major and DHC student, said students in their respective programs feel somewhat isolated from others in the program.

“We haven’t really had contact with the other students,” Sandoval-Reynoso said. “Anything that keeps students connected is a good idea.”

According to Gideon Cohn-Postar, a DHC Research Analyst and previous DHC student, students in each program had different access to academic opportunities. He said this issue was due to honors students from different programs not being able to take the same seminars.

“Great students aren’t interacting with each other,” Cohn-Postar said. “We want to make sure students have access to all faculty members.”

Another difference between the two programs is the admittance procedures. Students can join ISHP solely by invitation, while any freshman, second-year or transfer student who earns and maintains a 3.25 GPA can apply to DHC. With the new UHP, any first-year, second-year or transfer student can apply, and the same amount of incoming students will be admitted to the program as were let into both programs previously.

The curriculum for the honors program will also be changed. Kelman said that many students struggle with taking honors seminars because these classes do not count for general education (GE) credits and can be used to fulfill requirements for students’ majors.

“It was really challenging for students to be told that time they could normally be using for required classes had to be used for Honors requirements,” Kelman said. “Students would suggest to faculty members that the classes shouldn’t be as challenging for this reason.”

The new plan involves classes that will count towards honors students’ GE or major requirements, which will allow the classes to be challenging and also contribute to UHP students’ degrees. By the end of their second year, students are expected to complete a total of 26 units in required honors courses. By the end of their third year, students will complete a community service project that can include helping out a cause they believe in or become a peer advisor or tutor. By the end of their fourth year, students will have completed a Capstone project that can be lab research, an honors thesis or a community service project.

Kalvin Zee, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and DHC student, said that the change in courses is a good idea.

“Right now, the classes are skewed towards hard sciences, which makes it difficult for students who want to take classes in the softer sciences,” Zee said.

The plan still needs approval from the academic senate, which is currently reviewing it. If approved, the plan will go into effect this fall, and incoming freshman will be accepted into the University Honors Program, rather than the DHC or ISHP specifically.