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August 28, 2008

Pitt up 1 place in U.S. News rankings

Pitt tied for 58th — up one spot from last year — among the nation’s PhD-granting universities in the 2009 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” rankings. Pitt tied with the University of Georgia.

Pitt and Georgia also tied for 20th among national public institutions, the same rank for Pitt as last year.

The top spot among all 262 American PhD-granting schools (164 public institutions and 98 private) this year was held by Harvard, followed by Princeton and Yale. Last year, Princeton topped the list, followed by Harvard then Yale.

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 UCLA (25th overall) and Michigan-Ann Arbor (26th overall).

Pennsylvania institutions ranked by U.S. News among the overall top 50 national universities were the University of Pennsylvania (tied for 6th), Carnegie Mellon (22nd), Lehigh University (tied for 35th) and Penn State University (tied for 47th overall; tied for 15th among publics).

The college ratings were published in the Sept. 1 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:

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 higher education institutions into several categories: national universities, liberal arts colleges, regional master’s universities and regional baccalaureate colleges. Each grouping includes public and private institutions.

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

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, 91.4 percent of the 1,476 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 assessment by administrators at peer institutions (25 percent of total score); freshman 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 2001 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 2001 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 75 percent.

According to the magazine, Pitt’s peer assessment score was 3.4 (with 5.0 as the highest); its retention and graduation rate was 90 percent, which tied for 74th nationally; its faculty resources ranked 107th nationally; its student selectivity ranked 67th nationally; its financial resources ranked 35th nationally, and its 15 percent alumni giving rate ranked 95th nationally.

The magazine also reported other Pitt data: The percentage of classes in fall 2007 with fewer than 20 students was 43 percent, while the percentage of classes with 50 or more students was 15 percent; the 25th and 75th SAT percentile rates for fall 2007 freshmen were 1150 and 1340, respectively; 48 percent of freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their 2007 high school class, and Pitt’s 2007 acceptance rate was 56 percent.

This year U.S. News added a ranking of colleges and universities by high school counselors. The magazine asked a nationwide cross section of high school counselors from 800 public schools for their views on undergraduate programs at American colleges and universities.

Among national universities, Pitt tied for 73rd with 15 other institutions, with a composite counselors’ rating of 3.9 (with 5.0 as the highest).

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 151 accredited undergraduate business programs nationally ranked by U.S. News, Pitt’s undergrad business program (the College of Business Administration) tied for 43rd with eight other institutions: Arkansas; Bentley College (Mass.); Rensselaer; South Carolina-Columbia; Tennessee; Tulane; Virginia Tech, and William and Mary.

Last year Pitt’s program tied for 38th overall. Pitt was tied for 24th among public universities, down from a tie for 22nd last year.

Carnegie Mellon’s business program tied for 6th; Penn State’s program tied for 21st in the overall rankings. Penn’s Wharton business school held the top spot overall in this category, just as it did last year.

To arrive at the rankings, in spring 2008 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 were familiar with on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). The rankings were based solely on this peer survey; 38 percent of those surveyed responded, according to the magazine.

Among the top 100 accredited undergraduate engineering programs listed for universities that grant PhDs, Pitt’s program tied for 51st with nine other schools: Auburn; California-Irvine; Clemson; Colorado School of Mines; Delaware; Drexel; Massachusetts-Amherst; Tufts, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Mass.). Pitt tied for 52nd last year.

Among public national institutions, the program tied for 28th with Auburn, California-Irvine, Clemson, Colorado School of Mines, Delaware and Massachusetts-Amherst.

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-six 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 undergraduate programs in 12 engineering specialty areas. Pitt’s biomedical engineering program ranked 24th among 24 such programs highlighted.

The regional campuses

Nationally, U.S. News ranked 319 public and private baccalaureate colleges, divided into 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 nation’s 265 liberal arts colleges, by contrast, award at least half their degrees in the arts and sciences, according to U.S. News.)

The magazine lists 63 baccalaureate institutions overall in the northern subcategory, ranking the top 32 and listing Nos. 33-47 (plus ties) in tier 3, and Nos. 50-63 in tier 4.

Schools in both tiers 3 and 4 were listed alphabetically in the magazine, but were ranked numerically in the online version of the publication.

This year, Pitt’s Johnstown campus ranked 33rd (tied for 26th last year) and the Bradford campus was ranked 35th (tied for 30th last year) in the northern region.

Pitt’s Greensburg campus was unranked this year as well as last year because the campus does not have a separate accreditation, according to Robert J. Morse, director of data research at U.S. News & World Report. Morse acknowledged that Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Johnstown also are accredited under the University’s accreditation, and that therefore those campuses likewise should not have been included in U.S. News rankings.

“It was an oversight that [Bradford and Johnstown] were ranked independently,” Morse told the University Times. “We did not apply our own principle consistently. It is our intention to not include the [three] campuses in future rankings.”

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

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

The two campuses appear on the average freshman retention rate list: UPJ tied for 23rd with a 74 percent retention rate; UPB tied for 42nd with a 66 percent rate.

Among peer institutions, Pitt-Johnstown ranked 17th with a 59 percent six-year graduation rate and Pitt-Bradford tied for 41st with a 44 percent rate.

Fifty-six percent of UPB’s classes had fewer than 20 students in 2007, ranking the campus 32nd in its region, while 31 percent of UPJ’s classes had under 20 students, ranking the campus 54th.

Special categories

Best value

In addition, the Pittsburgh campus was ranked 39th (6th among public institutions) by U.S. News in the top 50 “best values” list among national universities.

These rankings were 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 2007-2008 year.

3. The average discount, that is, the percentage of a school’s 2007-2008 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, 2007-2008 out-of-state tuition and percentage of out-of-state students receiving need-based scholarships 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, 45 percent of undergraduates received grants based on need. The average cost to students after receiving need-based grants was $21,628, and the average discount from the total cost was 37 percent.

Harvard, with 51 percent of students receiving grants, $15,700 average cost after receiving grants and a 68 percent average discount, finished No. 1 on the list, according to the magazine.

Student-incurred debt

U.S. News compiled lists of the schools whose students in the class of 2007 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 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.

In last year’s edition of U.S. News rankings, 51 percent of Pittsburgh campus 2006 graduates incurred debt, averaging $15,331. Information for Pittsburgh campus students graduating in 2007 was not available, according to the magazine.

At the Johnstown campus, 86 percent of 2007 graduates incurred debt, averaging $23,412. That ranked 14th best (lowest average total indebtedness) among baccalaureate colleges in the northern region.

In the same category, Pitt-Bradford ranked 18th with 90 percent of 2007 graduates having incurred an average debt of $24,910.

Ethnic diversity

To identify colleges where students are most likely to encounter undergraduates from racial or ethnic groups different from their own, U.S. News developed a diversity index (with 1.0 as the highest score), which factors in the total proportion of minority students — leaving out international students — and the overall mix of groups from each institution’s 2006-2007 student body.

The University tied with 11 other schools for 178th among national universities on U.S. News’s racial diversity rankings.

Pitt’s diversity index score was 0.27.

UPB tied for 32nd and UPJ tied for 48thst for racial diversity among the 63 schools in the northern region.

Bradford’s diversity index was 0.13 and Johnstown’s was 0.06.


University highlighted in 1st-time U.S. News feature

This year, Pitt is one of 24 institutions — four from western Pennsylvania — featured in U.S. News’s “Narrowing the Search” section, published in its “America’s Best Colleges” 2009 edition.

The features are intended to offer college-bound students a variety of institutions — public and private, large and small — in six geographic areas, according to the magazine.

Regionally, along with Pitt (“Big School in a Big City”) are brief features on Carnegie Mellon (“Techies and More”), Indiana University of Pennsylvania (“Driving to School”) and Washington and Jefferson College (“Liberal Arts in a Small-Town Setting”).

Among Pitt’s attractions touted by U.S. News as appealing to college students are the Cathedral of Learning, the Petersen Events Center, the University Honors College and the “Oakland Zoo” (the nickname for the men’s basketball student cheering section).

“Being in a major metropolis has academic advantages: Pitt’s standout medical program draws on massive resources from surrounding hospitals,” the magazine noted. In addition, “the school offers plenty of distractions and an active party life: Pitt bashes often attract students from up the street at more restrained Carnegie Mellon.”

The story is posted online at


How Pitt stacks up among PA universities

Following are highlights from a comparison of select Pennsylvania institutions from data in U.S. News and World Report’s 2009 “America’s Best Colleges” edition:

• Acceptance rate: Pitt accepted 56 percent (the same as in last year’s data) of applicants for fall 2007’s entering class (19,056 total applicants); Penn State, 51 percent (39,551 applicants); Carnegie Mellon, 28 percent (22,356 applicants); Temple, 63 percent (16,659 applicants); the University of Pennsylvania, 16 percent (22,645 applicants).

(The most selective institution nationally was Harvard, 9 percent.)

• Student-faculty ratio: Pitt 16:1, Penn State and Temple 17:1; CMU, 11:1; Penn, 6:1.

• Average six-year graduation rate in 2007: Pitt graduated 75 percent of its 2001 entering students within six years (up from 73 percent of 2000 entering students); Penn State, 84 percent; CMU, 87 percent; Temple, 59 percent; Penn, 95 percent.

• Retention rate of fall 2006 entering freshmen: Pitt, 90 percent (89 percent in last year’s data); Penn State and CMU, 94 percent; Temple, 85 percent; Penn; 98 percent.

• Percentage of full-time students deemed to have financial need: Pitt, 55 percent (down from 57 percent); Penn State, 51 percent; CMU, 51 percent; Temple, 68 percent; Penn, 42 percent.

• Alumni giving rate: Pitt, 15 percent (16 percent in 2006, according to U.S. News); Penn State and CMU, 22 percent; Temple, 10 percent; Penn, 38 percent.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 1

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