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September 2, 2010

Pitt ranking drops in latest U.S. News survey

usnewsPitt tied for 64th among all the nation’s PhD-granting universities in the 2011 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” rankings. Pitt tied with Clemson, Minnesota-Twin Cities, Rutgers and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Last year Pitt tied for 56th.

Among just national public institutions, Pitt tied for 23nd, down three slots from last year.

Harvard topped the list this year, followed by Princeton, Yale and Columbia, with Stanford and Penn tying for 5th, among all 262 American doctorate-granting schools (164 public institutions and 98 private). Last year, Harvard and Princeton tied for the top spot.

The University of California-Berkeley, which was ranked No. 22 overall, again held the top spot among the publics, followed by UCLA and the University of Virginia (tied for 25th overall), Michigan-Ann Arbor (29th overall) and North Carolina-Chapel Hill (30th overall).

In addition to Penn, Pennsylvania institutions ranked by U.S. News among the overall top 50 national universities were Carnegie Mellon (tied for 23rd), Lehigh University (tied for 37th) and Penn State (tied for 47th overall; tied for 15th among the publics).

The college ratings were published in the Aug. 23 issue of the magazine in abridged form. In addition, undergraduate business and engineering programs and certain specialty areas ranked by U.S. News are posted on the magazine’s web site:

Even more extensive ranking lists, which were the source for this story, can be purchased at the web site.

Kinds of institutions

U.S. News breaks down more than 1,400 of the nation’s four-year higher education institutions into several categories: national universities; national liberal arts colleges; regional universities (listed as “universities-master’s” in previous years’ rankings), and regional colleges (previously “baccalaureate colleges”).

According to the magazine, the latter category changes better reflect the official Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifications, updated in 2006, of universities whose highest degree is a master’s and four-year colleges that specialize in professional as well as liberal arts degrees. The number of institutions in the two categories did not change from prior years, and schools still are ranked in four regions — north, south, midwest and west — “because they tend to draw heavily from surrounding states.”

Each grouping includes public and private institutions.

U.S. News has ranked colleges and universities annually since 1983. (The magazine also annually ranks graduate programs. See April 29 University Times.)

National universities, including Pitt, are defined by U.S. News as those institutions that “offer a wide range of undergraduate majors, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees; some emphasize faculty research.”


U.S. News gathers data from the institutions each year. According to the magazine, 90 percent of the 1,472 schools returned surveys supplying data for this year’s rankings. Missing data are drawn from national sources such as the American Association of University Professors, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Council for Aid to Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics.

This year, U.S. News adjusted its methodology in several ways.

The rankings for national universities still are derived from a comparison of seven weighted indicators, but the weights have been adjusted in two categories: undergraduate academic reputation, formerly 25 percent of an institution’s overall score, now accounts for 22.5 percent; graduation rate performance, formerly worth 5 percent, now is 7.5 percent of the overall score for national universities.

That latter variable is defined as the difference between a school’s six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2003 and the predicted rate for that class; the predicted rate is calculated using a formula that accounts for the standardized test scores of students entering in 2003 and the school’s expenditures on the students.

If the actual graduation rate is higher than the predicted rate, the school is judged to have enhanced the students’ achievement. For example, this year Pitt’s predicted six-year graduation rate was 77 percent, while the actual rate was 78 percent.

According to the magazine, graduation rate performance was increased in weight since the category “has been well received by many higher education researchers because it’s a measure of educational outcomes and also rewards schools for graduating at-risk students, many of whom are receiving federal Pell grants. This means that schools can benefit in the Best Colleges rankings by enrolling and then graduating more of these at-risk students.”

At 22.5 percent of the overall score, the undergraduate academic reputation category remains the largest single weighted measure in the score. But for the first time, U.S. News has included within that measure the opinions of high school guidance counselors in making calculations for national universities.

According to the magazine, “The weight assigned to the [traditional] peer ratings collected in a survey of college presidents, provosts and deans goes down to 15 percent of the overall score from 25 percent; ratings by the high school counselors surveyed get a weight of 7.5 percent. This means that in these two categories the total weight of reputation has been reduced by 2.5 percentage points. We are publishing a new ‘undergraduate academic reputation index,’ which reflects the weighted combined results of both reputation surveys.”

Of the 4,273 academicians surveyed, 48 percent responded, the same percentage as last year; of the 1,787 high school guidance counselors first surveyed this year, 21 percent responded, the magazine stated.

The weights of the five other measures in the U.S. News rankings remain the same: graduation and retention rates (20 percent of the total score); faculty resources (20 percent); student selectivity (15 percent); financial resources (10 percent), and alumni giving (5 percent).

Fifty percent of the student selectivity score is derived from the test scores of all enrolled freshmen who took the critical reading and math portions of the SAT or the composite ACT score.

Pitt requires applicants to take either the SAT or the ACT.

Forty percent of the selectivity score is based on the percentage of enrolled freshmen who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class; 10 percent is based on an institution’s acceptance rate, that is, the ratio of students admitted to applicants.

According to the magazine, Pitt’s overall score was 51, with 100 being the highest score; its undergraduate academic reputation score was 70 (with 100 the maximum); its average freshman retention rate was 90.8 percent, which tied for 60th nationally; its faculty resources ranked 124th nationally; its student selectivity ranked 63rd nationally; its financial resources ranked 36th nationally, and its 14 percent alumni giving rate ranked 98th nationally.

The magazine also reported other Pitt data:

• Pitt’s total undergraduate population in fall 2009 was 18,031, which included 16,719 full-time students and 1,312 part-time students.

• Women comprised 51 percent of the undergrad population.

• Pitt received 21,737 applications for admission last fall; 12,722 were accepted, an acceptance rate of 59 percent.

• The percentage of classes in fall 2009 with fewer than 20 students was 39.9 percent, while the percentage of classes with 50 or more students was 17.9 percent.

• 49 percent of freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their 2009 high school class; 86 percent were in the top quarter, and 99 percent in the top half of their class.

• The 25th and 75th SAT percentile rates for fall 2009 freshmen were 1160 and 1360, respectively.

• 56 percent of undergraduates were determined to have financial need, with the average financial aid package being $10,132.

• The five most popular majors for 2009 graduates: 14 percent business, management, marketing and related support services; 14 percent social sciences; 11 percent English language and literature/letters; 9 percent engineering, and 9 percent psychology.

• The student-faculty ratio in fall 2009 was 15:1.

• 88.8 percent of Pitt’s 2,265 faculty in 2009 were full time.

• 45 percent of undergraduates lived in Pitt-affiliated housing.

• 10 percent of undergraduates belonged to a fraternity, 9 percent to a sorority.

Undergraduate business and engineering programs

Also ranked nationally by U.S. News and World Report were undergraduate business and engineering programs on the Pittsburgh campus.

Among the 363 undergraduate business programs ranked by U.S. News, Pitt’s College of Business Administration tied for 42nd overall (the same as last year) with 14 other programs: Auburn, Boston University, the College of William and Mary, CUNY-Baruch College, Pepperdine, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Tulane, Virginia Tech and the universities of Arkansas, Connecticut, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon and South Carolina.

Carnegie Mellon’s business program tied for 7th; Penn State’s program tied for 23rd in the overall rankings. Penn’s Wharton business school held the top spot overall in this undergraduate category, just as it did last year.

Pitt was tied for 24th among public universities in this category, the same as last year.

To arrive at the business program rankings, in spring 2010 U.S. News surveyed deans and senior faculty at undergraduate business programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Participants (two at each AACSB-accredited business program) were asked to rate the quality of all programs they were familiar with on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). The rankings were based solely on this peer survey; 42 percent of those surveyed responded, according to the magazine.

In addition, U.S. News ranks schools in 12 business specialty areas, which also are based solely on the spring 2010 peer survey. Schools offering any courses in a specialty are eligible to be ranked in that specialty.

In the management information systems specialty, Pitt tied for 17th overall with Bentley University among 20 such programs highlighted by the magazine. Pitt was unranked in this area last year.

Among the top 169 accredited undergraduate engineering programs listed for public and private universities that grant PhDs, Pitt’s program tied for 56th (tied for 51st last year) with eight other schools: Auburn, Boston, Clemson, Colorado State, Iowa, Northeastern, Tufts and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Carnegie Mellon tied for 8th and Penn State tied for 17th overall among doctorate-granting schools in the engineering program rankings. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was ranked No. 1 by the magazine, the spot it held last year.

Among public institutions, Pitt tied for 32nd; Pitt tied for 29th last year in this category.

Undergrad engineering programs were ranked solely on a spring 2010 peer survey of deans and senior faculty (two per school) who rated each program they were familiar with. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed at schools that award doctorates responded, according to the magazine.

Special categories

Pitt appeared in a number of special categories listed by U.S. News for national universities.

• In the economic diversity category, which shows the percentage of undergraduates receiving federal Pell grants for low-income students, 29 percent of Pitt undergraduates received Pell grants, ranking the University tied for 63rd among national universities.

According to the magazine, Pell grant percentages were calculated using 2008-09 school year data on the number of Pell grant recipients at each school collected by the U.S. Department of Education and fall 2008 total undergraduate enrollment collected from the colleges themselves. U.S. News noted, “Many experts say that Pell figures are the best available gauge of how many low-income undergrads there are on a given campus.”

• In the racial diversity category, Pitt scored 0.27 (with 1.0 as the highest score) on the magazine’s diversity index, tying for 187th among all national universities.

According to the magazine, the diversity index is designed to “identify colleges where students are most likely to encounter undergraduates from racial or ethnic groups different from their own.” To arrive at the index, U.S. News factors in the total proportion of minority students, excluding international students, drawn from data from each institution’s 2009-10 school year student body.

• Pitt’s 78 percent six-year graduation rate tied for 65th among national universities.

• In the average freshman retention rate category, which measures the average proportion of entering freshmen starting in fall 2005 through fall 2008 who returned to school the following fall, Pitt’s 90.8 percent rate tied for 60th nationally.

• Pitt’s 59 percent acceptance rate tied for 96th among national universities in that category.

The regional campuses

U.S. News ranked 319 public and private regional colleges, divided into four regions of the country.

The northern region includes Pennsylvania, the six New England states, and Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

According to the magazine, regional colleges are institutions that focus on undergraduate education and offer a range of degree programs in professional fields such as business, nursing and education, with liberal arts programs accounting for fewer than half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded.

(The nation’s 572 regional universities, by contrast, offer a “full range of master’s programs, but few, if any, doctoral programs,” according to U.S. News.)

In the northern subcategory, the magazine lists 64 public and private regional colleges, ranking the top 50 (including ties) and listing Nos. 51-64 in tier 2. Schools in tier 2 were listed alphabetically by the magazine.

This year, Pitt’s Johnstown campus tied for 21st overall with Cazenovia College and Keuka College; UPJ tied for 28th last year. The campus ranked 7th among public institutions in the region, up from 8th last year.

The Bradford campus, which was unranked last year when the magazine ranked only the top 33 institutions, tied for 31st in the northern region with Eastern Nazarene College, New England College, Pennsylvania College of Technology and Vermont Technical College.

This year, Pitt-Bradford tied for 9th among public regional colleges in the northern region.

Pitt’s Greensburg campus was unranked this year as well as the past three years. The school was dropped in the Best Colleges 2007 (published in August 2006) edition of U.S. News because of incomplete data, according to Robert J. Morse, director of data research at U.S. News & World Report. In the 2008 and 2009 editions, Pitt-Greensburg was not ranked because the campus does not have a separate accreditation, Morse told the University Times. However, he acknowledged that Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Johnstown also are accredited under the University’s accreditation and that, under that tenet, those campuses likewise should not have been included in U.S. News rankings. For example, Penn State’s satellite campuses are unranked for that reason.

“It was our intention to remove [UPB and UPJ] from the rankings [in the 2010 edition published in 2009],” he said. “This was an oversight. Our goal is that the schools should be treated equally and we didn’t do that.”

This year, however, for the Best Colleges 2011 edition, the magazine chose to maintain the status quo from last year and to include Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Johnstown. “We decided to keep the same universe of schools because we’re waiting for the new Carnegie Foundation classifications to be released, which, according to their web site, supposedly is going to happen by the end of calendar 2010,” Morse said.

“We’re going to use the new classifications as a catalyst to re-look at all the schools. I doubt there will be changes [in classification] for schools like Carnegie Mellon, Penn State’s main campus or the University of Pittsburgh main campus, but there are some issues with [smaller] schools that we’ll be taking a look at to see where they fit.”

Pitt-Titusville, primarily a two-year institution, never has been included in the U.S. News rankings.

Both UPJ and UPB appear in a number of subcategories within the group of 64 northern regional colleges ranked by U.S. News.

• Pitt-Bradford tied for 29th in the racial diversity index category, which identifies colleges where students are most likely to encounter undergraduates from racial or ethnic groups different from their own.

Pitt-Johnstown tied for 42nd in this category among the 52 peer institutions ranked by the magazine.

• The two campuses appear on the average freshman retention rate listing of the 64 regional colleges, which is defined as the average proportion of entering freshmen starting in fall 2005 through fall 2008 who returned to school the following fall.

The magazine ranked the top 60 northern regional colleges in this category. Pitt-Johnstown ranked 23rd with a 73.8 percent retention rate; Pitt-Bradford ranked 29th with a 71.2 percent rate.

• Among peer institutions in the northern region, Pitt-Johnstown ranked 15th with a 60.8 percent six-year graduation rate, and Pitt-Bradford ranked 38th with a 45.3 percent rate.

• At Bradford, 47.5 percent of the classes had fewer than 20 students in 2009, ranking the campus 36th in its region, while 22.5 percent of UPJ’s classes had under 20 students, ranking the campus 50th.

• In the average amount of need-based aid (need-based scholarship and grants, need-based loans and work study) awarded category, Pitt-Bradford ranked 26th with $12,600 being the average financial aid package for full-time undergraduates, meeting on average 90 percent of need for full-time students.

Pitt-Johnstown ranked 35th in this category, with the average financial aid package being $10,226, meeting on average 57 percent of need for full-time students.

• U.S. News also compiled lists of the schools whose students in the class of 2009 graduated with the heaviest and lightest debt loads. The student-incurred debt category data included loans taken out by students from the colleges themselves, from financial institutions and from federal, state and local governments. Parents’ loans were not included.

The data indicated what percentage of the student body had taken on debt (and, by extrapolation, what percentage was debt-free).

Data also included the “average amount of debt,” that is, the average cumulative amount borrowed by those students who incurred debt, not the average for all students.

At the Bradford campus, 81.7 percent of 2009 graduates incurred debt, averaging $21,683. That ranked 13th lowest in average total indebtedness among regional colleges in the northern region.

In the same category, Pitt-Johnstown ranked 14th lowest in average total indebtedness, with 85 percent of 2009 graduates incurring debt, averaging $23,243.

In this category, information for Pittsburgh campus students graduating in 2009 was incomplete and the campus is not listed, according to U.S. News officials.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 1

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