Friday Letter 2016-10-14:
These Great Rankings Tell Our Story
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Autumn means a season for changing leaves, football weekends and mid-term exams. It’s also a time when future college students closely examine their options for higher education. Students and families often rely on college guides and rankings to make college decisions. Rankings help guide a more nuanced approach to college selection than word-of-mouth or the impressions of friends, however well-meaning. But understanding the basis of rankings is important. Armed with that information, I hope that you will help friends understand the excellence of our premier research university.
Every year we see an abundance of rankings and comparisons, each with a unique combination of metrics and weighting. Some rankings weight reputation or the quality of the incoming student body. I put a higher value on the student experience and on student outcomes, especially real-world career success after college.
U.S. News and World Report is a widely-used, traditional ranking. The University of Idaho does well in this annual ranking – No. 171 among national universities for 2017, with highly ranked programs in business and engineering. Worth noting, though, is that US News weights reputation (assessed by a survey of college administrators) and student selectivity highly. Student selectivity is essentially how many qualified students an institution turns away. I feel that education should be accessible for all qualified students; we have a mission to expand access, not restrict it. If lower student selectivity at UI dents an otherwise strong ranking, we accept that because we want to be measured on how many great students we bring in the door and graduate, not how many we lock out.
This fall the federal government updated its College Scorecard – not a ranking, per se, but a tool for learning more about institutions and comparing them. Clear-cut, authoritative and fact-based, it allows one to compare institutions based on measures such as average annual costs, six-year graduation rate, and financial success after college. The data are drawn from those students who received federal financial aid – more than half of our students and a very important population for us to serve. The College Scorecard gets to the heart of three critical factors every family needs to consider – cost to them, probability of their graduation, and what their career outcome will be. UI scores better than the national average in all categories, and best among all four-year public universities in Idaho.
This summer UI was named one of Money magazine’s “Best Colleges” and the best school in Idaho. Quality of education, affordability and outcomes inform Money’s rankings. Some of their data come from the College Scorecard, and some come from PayScale. This very practical ranking helps students answer key questions: Is the academic experience excellent? Can I afford it? Will it pay off with a good job? Our success on this ranking offers a resounding “Yes” to all three questions.
The Washington Monthly ranking takes a data-driven approach – no survey where administrators offer at-a-distance opinions on intangibles – and dials down on accessibility to families with financial need and service to first-generation students. Washington Monthly also assesses student success, innovative research and public service (we score especially high on service – this week we made our sixth consecutive appearance on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, further proof of that commitment). UI is again one of America's top 100 national universities, No. 84, and clearly the highest-ranked university in Idaho. We're also a "Best Bang for Your Buck" college based on the return on investment a UI degree offers graduates.
Not all rankings are created equal. Nevertheless, as students look ahead to their own fall days at our great university, I hope they’ll take advantage of the many well-informed rankings that are out there to help guide their decision-making. Our rankings prove that the University of Idaho will serve them well, as we have for 127 years.
P.S. I want to congratulate our College of Law for its appearance on the cover of this month’s PreLaw magazine — we are the No. 8 Best Value Law School in the nation. The program is helping students reduce debt and prepare for employment. For affordability and career success, our Law program exemplifies Vandal excellence, and I’m glad it’s getting noticed.