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September 1, 2005

Pitt moves up 7 spots in U.S. News annual rankings

Pitt tied for 58th among the nation’s Ph.D.-granting universities, and tied for 19th among such public universities, in the 2006 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “best colleges” rankings, marking the fifth year in a row the University has risen in those two categories.

Regarding the U.S. News annual rankings, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg commented, “We probably never will be entirely comfortable with those rankings, believing that they are too heavily tied to institutional resources. And, as an institution whose mission has long included doing more with less, we always will be disadvantaged by bench-marking that emphasizes institutional investments rather than outputs,” Nordenberg wrote in an Aug. 29 campus update.

But the rankings do receive considerable national attention, the chancellor acknowledged. “And for Pitt to rise from a ranking of 39th to a ranking of 19th among public national universities in a five-year period is no small accomplishment.”

Last year, Pitt placed 66th overall and 26th among the publics. This year Pitt tied with the University of Georgia in both categories.

The top spot among all 248 Ph.D.-granting schools (162 public institutions and 86 private) this year was held jointly by Harvard and Princeton, with Yale ranked 3rd, the same top three as last year.

The University of California-Berkeley, which tied for No. 20 overall, again held the top spot among the publics, followed by the University of Virginia. UCLA and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor tied for the third slot among the 162 public institutions ranked by U.S. News.

Pennsylvania institutions ranked among the overall top 50 national universities were the University of Pennsylvania (4th), Carnegie Mellon (22nd), Lehigh University (tied for 32nd) and Penn State University (tied for 48th).

The college ratings were published in the Aug. 29 issue of the magazine in abridged form. Undergraduate business and engineering programs, as well as certain specialty areas and programs ranked by U.S. News, are posted at the magazine’s web site:

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

Kinds of institutions

U.S. News breaks down more than 1,400 of the nation’s higher education institutions into several categories: “national universities/doctoral,” “national liberal arts colleges/bachelor’s,” “regional universities/master’s” and “regional comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s.” Each grouping includes public and private institutions.

National universities/doctoral is defined by U.S. News as those that offer a “wide range of undergraduate majors, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees; many strongly emphasize research.”

The categories, developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, were adopted four years ago by U.S. News, which has ranked colleges annually since 1983.


Each year, U.S. News gathers data from the institutions. According to the magazine, 95 percent of the 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.

The rankings for national universities/doctoral are derived from a comparison of seven weighted indicators: academic reputation based on peer assessment (25 percent of total score), graduation and retention rates (20 percent), faculty resources (20 percent), student selectivity (15 percent), financial resources (10 percent), alumni giving (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 1998 and the predicted rate for that class; the predicted rate is calculated using a formula that accounts for the standardized tests scores of 1998-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 61 percent, while the actual count was 67 percent.

According to Robert J. Morse, U.S. News & World Report director of data research, “Pitt made some small improvements in a number of areas in the rankings.”

In addition to the six-year graduation rate, Morse cited financial resources, student selectivity and faculty resources among categories where Pitt had improved over the past year. “Those improvements and changes in other schools’ data were enough to cause that magnitude of change in Pitt’s overall position in the rankings and relative rank among publics in the national universities category,” Morse told the University Times.

Selected rankings

• Nationally, U.S. News ranks 324 public and private comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s, divided by four regions of the country. In the northern region there are 68 schools (13 public, 55 private) in this category.

Pitt’s Johnstown campus again was ranked 3rd in the northern region among public schools in the sub-category of comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s, that is, those public 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 accounting for fewer than half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded.

Overall, Pitt-Johnstown ranked tied for 32nd with Thiel College.

The top spot in the northern region for all comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s was maintained by Stonehill College, a private institution in Massachusetts. The top public school, like last year, was Ramapo College of New Jersey, which ranked 9th overall in the northern region.

Both Pitt’s Bradford and Greensburg campuses were ranked in the national liberal arts colleges/bachelor’s category’s fourth tier (Nos. 165 through 215), which the magazine ranks alphabetically. Williams College in Maine topped the list.

Pitt-Titusville, as primarily a two-year institution, was not ranked by the magazine.

• Undergraduate business and engineering programs on the Pittsburgh campus also were ranked nationally by U.S. News and World Report.

Among the 167 accredited undergraduate business programs nationally ranked by U.S. News, Pitt’s undergrad business program tied for 40th (tied for 24th among public universities).

Carnegie Mellon’s business program tied for 5th; Penn State’s program tied for 18th in the overall rankings. Penn’s Wharton business school held the top spot overall in this category.

To arrive at the rankings, U.S. News surveyed deans and senior faculty at undergraduate business programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Participants were asked to rate the quality of all programs they are familiar with on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). The rankings are based solely on this peer survey; 45 percent of those surveyed responded.

Deans and faculty also were asked to nominate the best programs in specialty areas. Pitt’s undergraduate management information systems program ranked 23rd nationally among such programs.

• Among the 116 listed accredited undergraduate engineering programs for universities that grant Ph.D.s, Pitt’s program tied for 57th with 11 other institutions; it tied for 33rd with seven other schools among public universities in this category.

Carnegie Mellon tied for 8th and Penn State tied for 18th overall in the engineering program rankings. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was ranked 1st by the magazine.

Undergrad engineering programs are ranked solely on the judgments of surveyed deans and senior faculty who rated each program they are familiar with. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed responded, according to the magazine.

• In addition, this is the fourth year that U.S. News has published a list of “academic programs to look for,” which lists “outstanding examples of academic programs that are believed to lead to student success.”

U.S. News invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of each program type. Colleges and universities that were mentioned most often are listed by the magazine in alphabetical order.

Pitt is included this year among 36 institutions nationwide that excel in their “writing in the disciplines” undergraduate programs. Thirteen of the 36 schools are public institutions.

According to the magazine, “These colleges typically make writing a priority at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum. Students are encouraged to produce and refine various forms of writing for different audiences in different disciplines.”

Pitt also was listed in the programs to look for/study abroad category. According to U.S. News, “these programs involve substantial academic work — a year or a semester or an intensive experience equal to a course — and considerable interaction between the student and the culture.”

Fifty-seven such programs nationally were cited this year, including 13 public institutions.

• Pitt placed 26th among national public universities and 34th among all peer institutions in the category of “least debt” incurred by its graduates. U.S. News compiles a list of the schools whose students in the class of 2004 graduated with the heaviest and lightest debt loads.

The data include loans taken out by students from the colleges themselves, from financial institutions, and from federal, state and local governments. Parents’ loans are not included.

The data indicate what percentage of the student body has taken on debt (and, by extrapolation, what percentage is debt free). Data also include the “average amount of debt,” that is, the average cumulative amount borrowed by those students who incurred debt, not the average for all students.

Fifty-nine percent of Pitt 2004 graduates incurred debt, averaging $14,472.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 1

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