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August 31, 2006

Pitt rises in US News ranking

Pitt tied for 57th — up one spot from last year — among the nation’s PhD-granting universities in the 2007 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “best colleges” rankings, marking the sixth year in a row the University has risen in this national category. Pitt tied with Boston University and Ohio State University.

Pitt remained tied for 19th among such public universities, tying Ohio State.

The top spot among all 248 PhD-granting schools (162 public institutions and 86 private) this year was held by Princeton, followed by Harvard and Yale, the same top three as last year.

The University of California-Berkeley, which tied for No. 21 overall, again held the top spot among the publics, followed by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and the University of Virginia, which tied for 24th overall.

Pennsylvania institutions ranked by U.S. News among the overall top 50 national universities were the University of Pennsylvania (7th), Carnegie Mellon (tied for 21st), Lehigh University (33rd) and Penn State University (tied for 47th).

The college ratings were published in the Aug. 28 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 online 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, liberal arts colleges, regional universities/master’s and regional comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s. Each grouping includes public and private institutions.

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

National universities 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 research.”


Each year, U.S. News gathers data from the institutions. According to the magazine, 94 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 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 1999 and the predicted rate for that class; the predicted rate is calculated using a formula that accounts for the standardized test scores of 1999-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 63 percent, while the actual rate was 70 percent.

The regional campuses

• Nationally, U.S. News ranks 320 public and private comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s, divided by four regions of the country. In the northern region there are 67 schools (14 public, 53 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 in the northern region, Pitt-Johnstown ranked tied for 29th with Mount Aloysius College (Pa.). Last year UPJ tied for 32nd in this category.

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 8th overall in the northern region.

Both Pitt’s Bradford and Greensburg campuses were ranked in the liberal arts colleges category’s fourth tier (Nos. 163 through 215), which the magazine lists alphabetically. Liberal arts colleges are defined as colleges that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the liberal arts. Williams College in Massachusetts topped this year’s list.

Pitt-Titusville, as primarily a two-year institution, was not included in the rankings.

Undergraduate business & engineering programs

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

Among the 183 accredited undergraduate business programs nationally ranked by U.S. News, Pitt’s undergrad business program tied for 42nd (the same rank as last year) with eight other programs. Pitt tied for 25th among public universities, dropping one spot from last year.

Carnegie Mellon’s business program was ranked 8th; 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, according to the magazine.

Among the 105 accredited undergraduate engineering programs listed for universities that grant PhDs, Pitt’s program tied for 53rd (the same rank as last year) with six other institutions; it tied for 30th (up from 33rd last year) with three other schools among public universities in this category.

Carnegie Mellon tied for 8th and Penn State tied for 14th 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. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed at schools that award doctorates responded, according to the magazine.

Special categories

In addition, this is the fifth 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 from more than 1,300 institutions to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of a program type. Colleges and universities that were mentioned most often are listed by the magazine in alphabetical order.

Pitt is included this year among 62 institutions nationwide that excel in study abroad undergraduate programs. Seventeen of the 62 schools are public institutions.

According to the magazine, “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.”

Pitt also is listed by U.S. News among national universities on the “A+ options for B students” honor role, that is an alphabetized list of 95 high-quality institutions “that accept a significant number of people with nonstratospheric grade point averages and SAT scores in the average-to-above-average range.”

To qualify for the list, schools had to rank in the top two-thirds of their respective categories in the magazine’s current rankings; had to have a four-year freshman retention rate of at least 75 percent; had to admit a meaningful proportion of non-A students, as determined by fall 2005 admissions data; had to have a proportion of freshmen from the top 10 percent of their high school class be less than or equal to 50 percent; had to have a proportion of freshmen from the top 25 percent of their high school class be less than or equal to 80 percent but greater than or equal to 40 percent, and had to have the SAT at the 75th percentile be less than or equal to 1350, and the SAT at the 25th percentile be greater than or equal to 980.

Student-incurred debt rankings

Pitt placed 65th among national public universities and 81st 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 2005 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.

Sixty-three percent of Pittsburgh campus 2005 graduates incurred debt, averaging $17,051.

Pitt-Johnstown ranked 17th — and 1st among public schools — among northern region comprehensive colleges/bachelor’s for most debt incurred by its 2005 graduates. Eighty-nine percent of UPJ grads incurred debt, averaging $22,362.

At the Bradford campus, 85 percent of 2005 graduates incurred debt, averaging $19,313. That ranked 3rd for public liberal arts colleges and 77th among all such schools nationally.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 1

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