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September 14, 2000

RANKINGS: U.S. News prints findings; new Florida study looks at different criteria

Pitt is among the top ranked higher education institutions nationwide, according to two recently released reports.

Pitt tied for 38th among the nation's 147 public universities in the U.S. News & World Report's annual America's best colleges issue, the same spot the University held last year.

In a first-time report from the Center for Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Florida, Pitt fared somewhat better, finishing in the 4th tier — unranked institutions 15-22 — among the 47 top public research universities rated.

University rankings have come under fire recently from academic officials, regardless of whether their institutions are highly ranked.

Pitt's director of News and Information Ken Service said that rankings have limited usefulness as a guide for rating higher education institutions. "It's really difficult to encapsulate a university in a single number," Service said. "The U.S. News rankings in particular do not take into account the quality and extent of research nor the impact of research on the quality of education we offer."

Service said public universities also are penalized in overall categories when alumni contributions, which typically favor private institutions, are considered.

U.S. News and World Report "America's Best Colleges"

Tied with Pitt in the 38th slot among public institutions were Clemson, Iowa State and the University of Connecticut. The University of California-Berkeley and the University of Virginia tied for the top spot among the publics.

In the ranking of all national universities, 228 public and private schools, Pitt again this year finished in the second tier, numbers 52-116, which the magazine lists alphabetically.

U.S. News defines national universities (as opposed to "national liberal arts colleges," "regional universities" or "regional liberal arts colleges") as those that offer a "full range of undergraduate majors, as well as master's and doctoral degrees; many strongly emphasize research."

The rankings for national schools are derived from a weighted comparison of indicators: academic reputation (25 percent), retention (20 percent), faculty resources (20 percent), student selectivity (15 percent), financial resources (10 percent), alumni giving rate (5 percent) and graduation rate performance (5 percent).

The last indicator, graduation rate performance, is defined as the difference between a school's six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 1993 and the predicted rate for that class; the predicted rate is calculated using a formula that accounts for the standardized tests scores of 1993-entering students 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, Pitt's predicted six-year graduation rate was 59 percent, while the actual count was 63 percent, according to the magazine.

Pennsylvania institutions ranked among the top 50 national universities were the University of Pennsylvania (tied for 6th), Carnegie Mellon (tied for 23rd), Lehigh University (tied for 38th) and Penn State University (44th).

The top spot overall was held by Princeton, with Harvard and Yale tied for 2nd.

Pitt's undergraduate business and engineering programs also were nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report.

Pitt's business program finished tied for 34th (tied for 21st among public universities). There are 338 accredited undergraduate business programs overall. In the overall rankings, Carnegie Mellon ranked tied for 5th; Penn State tied for 19th.

Among the 181 accredited undergraduate engineering programs for universities that grant Ph.D.s as their highest degree, Pitt's program tied for 59th; it tied for 32nd among public institutions.

Carnegie Mellon finished tied for 9th and Penn State ranked 15th overall.

The ratings were issued in the Sept. 11 issue of the magazine and are posted at U.S. News & World Report's web site: University of Florida's "The Top American Research Universities"

This first-time report rating the top research universities nationwide ranks public and private institutions separately in nine categories, and then creates tiers, listing institutions alphabetically based on how many top-25 mentions they get. Institutions needed to rank in the top 25 in at least one category to be listed.

The report, titled "The Top American Research Universities," considered only institutions with more than $20 million in annual research expenditures — 47 publics and 35 privates.

According to the authors of the report, the rankings shy away from subjective categories, such as academic reputation, which is usually based on the surveyed opinions of academic observers. "Much opinion about university quality reflects wisdom acquired at one point in time and rarely reassessed," the researchers wrote. "In such surveys, the opinions generated often do not reflect the actual current performance of the institution. Reputation rankings are not necessarily wrong; they are just unreliable and insensitive to institutional change."

Pitt scored in six out of nine top-25 indicators in the Florida report, including: total research expenditures (24th); federal research expenditures (11th); endowment assets (14th); faculty awards (21st); doctorates granted (19th), and number of post-doctoral appointments (13th).

Pitt ranked below 25 in the other three categories, annual giving (29th); number of national academy members (28th), and median SAT scores for entering freshmen (61st).

Figures used in the study are from 1999, except total federal research expenditures, doctorates awarded, post-doctoral appointments and SAT scores, which are from 1998.

Other public universities in Pitt's tier were Georgia Institute of Technology, Ohio State, Purdue, Arizona, the University of California at Davis, the University of California at San Diego and Virginia.

The top tier — institutions scoring in the top 25 in all nine categories — were the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Penn State ranked in the second tier (5-10) with eight top-25 indicators, failing to reach top-25 status only in the number of post-doctorates, where it ranked 38th nationally.

Among the 35 private institutions rated, Carnegie Mellon ranked in the 5th tier (institutions 20-23), with five top-25 indicators.

The Florida report is designed to help universities improve themselves, according to one of its authors, Diane D. Craig. "We aren't out to say 'We want to compete with U.S. News,'" Craig wrote in the introduction. "We're not in competition with any commercial interests. It's really geared more toward the institutions that want to look at themselves and how to improve."

The report is on-line at:

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 2

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