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September 3, 2009

Pitt moves up two places in latest U.S. News rankings

usnewsPitt tied for 56th — up two spots from last year — among all the nation’s PhD-granting universities in the 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” rankings. Pitt tied with Boston University.

When compared to just the national public institutions, Pitt was ranked 20th; last year Pitt tied for 20th.

Harvard and Princeton tied for the top spot this year among all 262 American doctorate-granting schools (164 public institutions and 98 private). Last year, Harvard topped the list and Princeton was second.

The University of California-Berkeley, which was ranked No. 21 overall, again held the top spot among the publics, followed by UCLA and the University of Virginia (each tied for 24th overall), Michigan-Ann Arbor (27th overall) and North Carolina-Chapel Hill (tied for 28th overall).

Pennsylvania institutions ranked by U.S. News among the overall top 50 national universities were the University of Pennsylvania (tied for 4th), Carnegie Mellon (22nd), Lehigh University (tied for 35th) and Penn State University (tied for 47th overall; tied for 15th among the publics).

The college ratings were published in the Aug. 24 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:

Even 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 nine 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, 91.2 percent of the 1,477 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, including academic reputation based on assessment by administrators at peer institutions, which accounts for 25 percent of the total score, the largest single indicator.

This year, participation in the survey by college leaders, which had dropped over recent years from 68 percent in 1999 to last year’s lowest-ever participation rate of 46 percent, rose slightly to 48 percent, according to the magazine.

A second indicator is student selectivity, which accounts for 15 percent of the total score. Fifty percent of the selectivity score is derived from the test scores of all enrolled freshmen who took the critical reading and math portions of the SAT or the composite ACT score.

This year, U.S. News adjusted its methodology slightly regarding the entrance-test scores.

“In order to better represent the entire [fall 2008] entering class, we are now using a value that takes into account the admissions test scores of all entering students,” the magazine stated. “Previously, we used only the scores of the test that had the majority of students taking it.”

Pitt requires applicants to take either the SAT or the ACT.

The other five ranking indicators are: freshman retention rates (20 percent of the total score); faculty resources (20 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 2002 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 2002 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 71 percent, while the actual rate was 76 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 ranked 71st nationally; its faculty resources ranked 109th nationally; its student selectivity ranked 63rd nationally; its financial resources ranked 36th nationally, and its 14.7 percent alumni giving rate ranked 98th nationally.

The magazine also reported other Pitt data:

• The percentage of classes in fall 2008 with fewer than 20 students was 44.5 percent, while the percentage of classes with 50 or more students was 16 percent.

• 48 percent of freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their 2008 high school class; 85 percent were in the top quarter, and 98 percent in the top half of their high school class.

• Pitt’s 2008 acceptance rate was 55.4 percent.

• The 25th and 75th SAT percentile rates for fall 2008 freshmen were 1160 and 1360, respectively.

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 183 undergraduate business programs nationally ranked by U.S. News, the College of Business Administration tied for 42nd with Arkansas, Boston University, South Carolina-Columbia, Tulane and Virginia Tech. Last year the Pitt program tied for 43rd overall.

Pitt was tied for 24th among public universities, the same as last year.

Carnegie Mellon’s business program ranked 9th; Penn State’s program tied for 21st in the overall rankings. Penn’s Wharton business school held the top spot overall in this undergraduate category, just as it did last year.

To arrive at the business program rankings, in spring 2009 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; 42 percent of those surveyed responded, according to the magazine.

Among the top 101 accredited undergraduate engineering programs listed for universities that grant PhDs, Pitt’s program tied for 51st (the same rank as last year) with five other schools: Colorado School of Mines; Dartmouth; Delaware; Drexel, and Massachusetts-Amherst.

Among public national institutions, Pitt tied for 29th with Colorado School of Mines, Delaware and Massachusetts-Amherst. Pitt tied for 28th last year in this category.

Carnegie Mellon tied for 7th 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, the same spot it held last year.

Undergrad engineering programs were ranked solely on a spring 2009 peer survey of deans and senior faculty who rated each program they were familiar with. Fifty-five 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 tied for 21st among 24 such programs highlighted (ranked 24th last year). Pitt tied with the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Best values

The Pittsburgh campus was ranked 39th (5th among public institutions) by U.S. News in the top 50 “best values” list among national universities.

These rankings were based on three variables:

• 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, according to the magazine.

• The percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based scholarships or grants during the 2008-2009 year.

• The average discount, that is, the percentage of a school’s 2008-2009 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, 2008-2009 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, 43 percent of undergraduates received grants based on need. The average cost to students after receiving need-based grants was $22,977, and the average discount from the total cost was 36 percent.

Harvard, with 57 percent of students receiving grants, an average cost of $13,400 after grants and a 73 percent average discount, finished No. 1 on the list, according to the magazine.

The regional campuses

Nationally, U.S. News ranked 319 public and private baccalaureate colleges, divided into four regions of the country.

The northern region includes Pennsylvania, the six New England states, and 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 266 liberal arts colleges, by contrast, award at least half their degrees in the arts and sciences, according to U.S. News.)

The magazine lists 64 baccalaureate institutions overall in the northern subcategory, ranking the top 33 (including ties) and listing Nos. 34-49 in tier 3 and Nos. 50-64 in tier 4.

Schools in both tiers 3 and 4 were listed alphabetically in the magazine.

This year, Pitt’s Johnstown campus tied for 28th with Curry College (Mass.); UPJ ranked 33rd last year. The campus ranked 8th among public institutions.

The Bradford campus was ranked in the third tier in the northern region.

Pitt’s Greensburg campus was unranked this year as well as the past two years 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 to the University Times last year that Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Johnstown also are accredited under the University’s accreditation and that, under that tenet, those campuses likewise should not have been included.

“This was an oversight. Our goal is that the schools should be treated equally and we didn’t do that,” Morse said last week. “We have many, many, many pieces of information to put together and sometimes the little details fall through the cracks. I don’t mean that these are little things to the people involved at the schools, but they’re little things in our big picture.”

He declined to say what tack the magazine will take in future years regarding Pitt’s regionals.

Dean Nelson, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs at Pitt-Greensburg, said his campus submitted the required data despite no assurance that the magazine would rank UPG. Because the campus has not been listed for three years, Nelson said, “I called Mr. Morse to see what their decision would be but he didn’t ever return my call.

“On the other hand, we’re not bitter toward the magazine. We don’t think [not being included] has hurt our recruitment. In fact, we think the rankings are detrimental to the process of recruiting, because the rankings are teaching students the wrong aspects to look for in a college choice. [The rankings] measure the wrong things: They measure inputs instead of what happens to students after they’re here. Even freshman retention is a measure that is largely consistent with the kinds of students who come to a college and how well they do once they get there. If they’re learning, they stay.”

Nelson further maintained that the U.S. News peer assessment measure, the factor with the most weight, has at least two flaws: The survey has a very low rate of return, and those surveyed can’t be expected to know very much about a large number of other institutions, he said. “I think there’s gaming going on, and that sometimes people pull other schools out of the air just because they know the name, without being very well informed,” Nelson said.

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 group of 64 northern baccalaureate colleges ranked by U.S. News.

The two campuses appear on the average freshman retention rate list: Pitt-Johnstown tied for 26th with a 73.8 percent retention rate; Pitt-Bradford ranked 36th with a 68 percent rate.

Among peer institutions, Pitt-Johnstown tied for 17th with a 59 percent six-year graduation rate and Pitt-Bradford ranked 40th with a 44.8 percent rate.

At UPB, 51.9 percent of classes had fewer than 20 students in 2008, ranking the campus 38th in its region, while 32.4 percent of UPJ’s classes had under 20 students, ranking the campus 52nd.

Student-incurred debt

U.S. News compiled lists of the schools whose students in the class of 2008 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.

At the Johnstown campus, 86 percent of 2008 graduates incurred debt, averaging $23,295. That ranked 17th best (lowest average total indebtedness) among baccalaureate colleges in the northern region.

In the same category, Pitt-Bradford ranked 23rd with 92 percent of 2008 graduates having incurred an average debt of $26,463.

Information for Pittsburgh campus students graduating in 2008 was incomplete and the campus is not listed, according to Morse. “The school submitted information on the student indebtedness for federal loans, but not for the alternative non-federal loans,” Morse said. “It would not have been consistent with that table to list the school.”

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 2008-2009 student body.

Pitt tied with 10 other schools for 185th among the 262 national universities on U.S. News’s racial diversity rankings. Pitt’s diversity index score was 0.27.

Pitt-Bradford ranked 30th and UPJ tied for 48th for racial diversity among the 64 schools in the northern region.

Bradford’s diversity index was 0.19 and Johnstown’s was 0.08.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 42 Issue 1

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