U Grad School jumps in ranking

Nathan Hall

The University’s doctoral program ranks 60th in the nation, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Colleges” issue released last month.

The position was up from 109 last year, yet University officials downplayed its significance, and others have questioned the study’s legitimacy.

“I don’t really bother checking on that, as we don’t really pay much attention to it around here,” said Victor Bloomfield, interim dean for the University’s Graduate School. “It gets a lot of play with undergrads, but savvy grad students want more solid info Ö it’s a relatively minor source for them.”

Bloomfield said he is more interested in a National Research Council report released once per decade. The council ranked the University 20th for graduate schools in its 2000 report.

“It’s much larger and not reputation-based,” Bloomfield said of the NRC report. “They look at productivity, progress, effectiveness, grants, publications Ö it’s just much more solidly based.”

U.S. News & World Report bases its numbers on a combination of objective and subjective factors including first-year student retention rates, class size, student-to-faculty ratios and standardized scores, as well as alumni donation percentages.

However, some parents and prospective applicants say its value as a college selection tool might be waning as well.

Merritt Brothen, a first-year University student from Fargo, N.D., who wants to major in business, said she read college ranking magazines but that “it ultimately wasn’t very important in helping me decide.

“I’m playing golf here, it’s relatively close to home and I wanted to live in a bigger city,” Brothen said. “What was crucial to me was not wanting to go very far away from my family.”

Merritt’s father, Elair Brothen, agreed.

“Those magazines do help to reinforce opinions and give a little insight as far as who stacks up where,” Elair said. “It was a little part of it, but St. Thomas was ranked high, too. We have a lot of relatives in the area and that took precedent.”

Growing dissent

Although the U.S. News rankings have been issued since 1983, resistance has been building in recent years.

According to the 1999 American Freshman Survey conducted by UCLA, only 7.5 percent of incoming students surveyed viewed national magazine rankings as a “very important” factor in choosing a school.

Universities have also taken action against the ranking’s effects.

In October 1996, a handful of universities, including Stanford University, the University of South Carolina and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded the Forget U.S. News Coalition.

Some even argue the rankings are irrelevant and do not reflect the quality of education.

In 1999, the Journal of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication noted that Stanford and the University’s journalism graduate tracks were ranked fifth and 15th respectively, although neither institution had such a program at that time.

However Richard Folkers, director of media relations for U.S. News & World Report defended the rankings.

“We always tell students to remember that a ranking alone is no way to pick out a school,” Folkers said. “It’s just one of many tools at the student’s disposal, but ultimately, you still have to do your homework.”

Folkers said he could not comment on why the University’s numbers fluctuated this year, because the methodology had changed since the last round.

“This is a journalistic enterprise for us and a service to our student readers,” Folkers said. “But we are always constantly striving to improve the process.”

University results

According to U.S. News & World Report findings, the University’s main strengths continue to lie in its business and engineering disciplines despite the jump in the doctoral program.

The Carlson School of Management ranked fourth in the country for its information systems degree track and the University’s chemical and mechanical engineering programs were named second and 10th, respectively.

The University’s study abroad program came in 13th for “involving substantial academic work Ö and a considerable interaction between the student and the culture.”

Additionally, the rankings listed the University as the 23rd best public university with a doctoral program, the same ranking it held last year.