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August 30, 2007

Pitt drops 2 places in U.S. News rankings

Pitt tied for 59th — down two spots from last year — among the nation’s PhD-granting universities in the 2008 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “best colleges” rankings, the first time in seven years that the University dropped in this national ranking. Pitt tied with Rutgers and the University of Georgia.

Pitt, Rutgers and Georgia also tied for 20th among national public institutions, a drop of one spot for Pitt from 2007’s list.

The annual rankings are not without controversy among school administrators, including Pitt’s, who argue that peer assessment — one of the magazine’s key evaluation indicators — is flawed.

The top spot among all 262 American PhD-granting schools (164 public institutions and 98 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 was No. 21 overall, again held the top spot among the publics, followed by the University of Virginia (tied for 23rd overall), and the universities of California-Los Angeles and Michigan-Ann Arbor, which tied for 25th overall.

Pennsylvania institutions ranked by U.S. News among the overall top 50 national universities were the University of Pennsylvania (tied for 5th), Carnegie Mellon (22nd), Lehigh University (tied for 31st) and Penn State University (48th).

The college ratings were published in the Aug. 27 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 at the magazine’s web site:

Even more extensive rankings 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 higher education institutions into several categories: national universities, liberal arts colleges, regional universities/master’s and regional baccalaureate colleges (formerly called 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 seven years ago by U.S. News, which has ranked colleges and universities annually since 1983.

However, those categories were amended by the foundation in 2006, its first major category revision since 2000, according to U.S. News. Several schools, including the U.S. service academies, are ranked for the first time, and several more schools, including Pitt-Bradford, were re-categorized under the revised Carnegie Foundation guidelines. UPB, formerly included in the national liberal arts colleges category, now is included in the baccalaureate colleges category.

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.”


Each year, U.S. News gathers data from the institutions. According to the magazine, 92.4 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 2000 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 2000 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 67 percent, while the actual rate was 73 percent.

According to the magazine, Pitt’s peer assessment score was 3.4 (with 5.0 as the highest); its freshman retention rate was 89 percent (which ranked 84th nationally); its faculty resources ranked 95th nationally; its student selectivity ranked 70th nationally; its financial resources ranked 37th nationally, and its alumni giving rate was 16 percent (which ranked 93rd nationally).

Related Pitt data reported by the magazine included: The percentage of classes in fall 2006 with fewer than 20 students was 44 percent, while the percentage of classes with 50 or more students was 16 percent; the 25th and 75th SAT percentile rates for fall 2006 freshmen were 1130 and 1320, respectively; 43 percent of freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their 2006 high school class, and Pitt’s 2006 acceptance rate was 56 percent.

The regional campuses

Nationally, U.S. News ranks 320 public and private baccalaureate colleges, divided by four regions of the country.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the northern region covers the six New England states as well as Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

According to the magazine, baccalaureate 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 magazine lists 62 institutions overall in the northern sub-category, ranking the top 32 and listing Nos. 33-62 alphabetically.

(The nation’s 266 liberal arts colleges, by contrast, award at least half their degrees in the arts and sciences, according to U.S. News.)

Pitt’s Johnstown campus tied with Bay Path College (Mass.) for 26th (UPJ tied for 29th last year) overall among northern baccalaureate colleges, and UPJ was 6th among such public institutions.

Last year, Pitt-Johnstown was ranked third among public institutions in the northern region behind Ramapo College of New Jersey (which was re-classified in this year’s listings to another category) and the University of Maine-Farmington.

Pitt-Bradford, which last year was ranked in the fourth tier (Nos. 163-215) of the liberal arts colleges, tied for 30th (tied for 8th among publics) with Lasell College (Mass.) and Vermont Technical College on this year’s list of the 32 top schools in the northern baccalaureate colleges category.

In addition to Pitt-Bradford, other new institutions among the 32 top baccalaureate colleges this year included No. 1-ranked Cooper Union (New York), the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (2nd overall and the top public institution), the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (7th), Lebanon Valley College (8th), Seton Hill University (12th), York College of Pennsylvania (tied for 14th), Geneva College (20th) and Vermont Technical College.

Pitt’s Greensburg campus, which last year also was ranked in the national liberal arts colleges category’s fourth tier, was unranked this year by U.S. News because UPG did not submit some data as requested, according to the magazine.

Pitt-Titusville, as primarily a two-year institution, has not been included in the U.S. News rankings.

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 150 accredited undergraduate business programs nationally ranked by U.S. News, Pitt’s undergrad business program (the College of Business Administration) tied for 38th (it tied for 42nd last year) with Boston University and Brigham Young University-Provo. Pitt was 22nd among public universities, up from a tie for 25th last year.

Carnegie Mellon’s business program tied for 7th; 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; 44 percent of those surveyed responded, according to the magazine.

Among the 99 accredited undergraduate engineering programs listed for universities that grant PhDs, Pitt’s program tied for 52nd with the Colorado School of Mines, the universities of Delaware, Massachusetts-Amherst and Missouri-Rolla. Pitt tied for 53rd last year. The University tied for 30th (the same as last year) with those three public schools.

Carnegie Mellon tied for 9th 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.

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

U.S. News also solicited nominations from engineering school officials for the best programs in engineering specialty areas. Pitt’s industrial/manufacturing program tied for 16th with the University of Florida among 19 such programs highlighted nationally.

Special categories

In addition, Pitt is listed by U.S. News among national universities on the “A+ options for B students” honor role, that is an alphabetized list of 97 high-quality doctoral institutions “that accept a significant number of people with non-stratospheric 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 2006 admissions data; had to have its proportion of freshmen from the top 10 percent of their high school class be less than or equal to 50 percent; had to have its 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.

Best values

Pitt also was ranked 37th (6th among public institutions) in the top 50 “best values” list among national universities by U.S. News.

These rankings are based on three variables:

1. The ratio of quality to price: A school’s overall score in the rankings was divided by the net cost to a student receiving the average need-based scholarship or grant. The higher the ratio of rank to the discounted cost (total costs less the average need-based scholarship or grant), the better the value.

2. The percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based scholarships or grants during the 2006-2007 year.

3. The average discount, that is, the percentage of a school’s 2006-2007 total costs (tuition, room and board, fees, books and other expenses) covered by the average need-based scholarship or grant to undergraduates.

In the case of public institutions, 2006-2007 out-of-state tuition and percentage of out-of-state students receiving need-based scholarship or grants were used. Only those schools ranked in, or near, the top half of their categories were considered.

The schools’ overall ranks were determined first by standardizing the scores achieved by every school in each of the three variables and weighting those scores. The ratio of quality to price accounted for 60 percent of the overall score, the percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based grants accounted for 25 percent and the average discount accounted for 15 percent. The school with the highest total weighted points became No. 1 in its category. The other schools were then ranked in descending order.

At Pitt, 47 percent of undergraduates received grants based on need. The average cost to students after receiving need-based grants was $20,198, and the average discount from the total cost was 39 percent.

Harvard, with 49 percent of students receiving grants, $15,647 average cost after receiving grants and a 66 percent average discount, finished No. 1 on the list, according to the magazine.

Student-incurred debt

Pitt placed 27th among national public universities and 35th among all peer institutions in the category of “least debt” incurred by its graduates. U.S. News compiled a list of the schools whose students in the class of 2006 graduated with the heaviest and lightest debt loads.

The 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 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-one percent of Pittsburgh campus 2006 graduates incurred debt, averaging $15,331, according to the magazine.

At the Bradford campus, 89 percent of 2006 graduates incurred debt, averaging $27,684. That ranked 9th highest and No. 1 among public baccalaureate colleges in the northern region for most debt incurred.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 40 Issue 1

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