Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Starting in 2004 ...an ambitious aspiration for the University--to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic] within a decade."

The Daily has a feature called "unfit for print" and perhaps this is. But the latest news indicates that we are far from being in the top three -- of anything. Let's take some reality pills and aim for being one of the top schools in the BigTen, our natural competition. If the OurCEO isn't up to the task then maybe we should get someone who knows how to play with the cards (s)he's been dealt?

From the Daily's Unfit for Print blog:

Only 190 spots away from top 3!

Well, it looks like we are making some good progress in becoming one of the top 3 public research institution in the world after all. Okay, so maybe not.

According to a new ranking system by StateUniversity.com, the University ranked No. 193 among top 2,000 in the country. Yes, that's right. This ranking only includes schools in the country.

The ranking is based on statistical data from universities, unlike many ranking systems that include a peer rating system as part of its process.

Apparently OurCEO is right, stature is more important than rankings...

BigTen School Rankings in the Latest Beauty Contest

[We are 9/10 for the publics.]

1. (19) Northwestern University

2. (37) University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

3. (62) Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

4. (92) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

5. (101) Michigan State University

6. (124) University of Wisconsin-Madison

7. (135) Ohio State University-Main Campus

8. (155) Indiana University-Bloomington

9. (171) Purdue University-Main Campus

10. (193) University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

11. (211) University of Iowa


Veblen said...

Anytime I see a ranking where Penn State does well, I become immediately suspicious of the ranking. I figure that either it has been manipulated by our intellectually dishonest president, the methodology is poor, the data is flawed, or the ranker has a commercial interest in ranking Penn State high.

The first clue of a problem with this ranking was that of the first ten schools in this state university ranking nine were private and the other was a US military academy.

I dug a bit deeper on this one.

The rankings appear to be based on the Common Data Sets. Here are the Penn State and Minnesota data from this ranker. You can see that Minnesota freshman have better ACT/SAT scores than Penn State and Minnesota is cheaper than Penn State. Penn State kills Minnesota on retention and student to faculty ratio. I went to the Common Data set for Minnesota and found that in the last available year, 2007-2008, the student faculty ratio was left blank. I calculated it myself using the formula provided and data from elsewhere in the report and found that the ratio was 15.4:1 compared to the 21:1 reported by the ranker, who likely used the total students, rather than undergraduate students,to compute the ratio. This is much better than the 18:1 for Penn State. You may want to see if you can debug the retention rate, as well.

The bottom line is that you should disabuse yourself of the notion that Penn State is superior to Minnesota in any significant way, except for bullshitting, on that we're world class.

Mr. B. said...

Thank you for the tip, Veblen. I have the utmost respect for your BS detector...

There are a lot of problems with this particular ranking in addition to this one. All you have to do is look at the schools and this is immediately obvious.

Correct me if I am wrong, but Penn State does seem to do a phenomenal job with graduation rate - or is this, also, an illusion?

Most rankings systems that place a priority on graduation rates show Penn State as pretty high on the totem pole. The U's graduation rates have traditionally been terrible. When my son was college age the four year graduation rate at Minnesota was under 30%. When you start from an appallingly low baseline, improvement is a little easier...

As to which is the best state university, I actually don't care a whole lot. As long as the education is affordable and the opportunity is there to go anywhere after the bachelor's degree, that is fine with me.


Bill Gleason

Veblen said...

You are right Penn State does have a better six year graduation rate. It also has a better freshman retention rate 92.3% vs 88%. From the Common Data Set, Penn State has a four year graduation rate of 60%. The rate for more than four but less than five and more than five but less than six are 22.1% and 2.5%, respectively. The six year rate is 84.6%. The corresponding numbers for Minnesota are 32.5% 23.3%,4.9% and 60.7%.

Based on these numbers, it is not that there are more hangers on at Minnesota than Penn State, rather Minnesota loses more students between freshman and sophomore years. Since the between four and five and between five and six rates are comparable between Minnesota and Penn State, it is my guess that there a also a larger loss between sophomore and junior year for Minnesota than Penn State.

One reason for Penn State's high retention between sophomore and junior years is that many cake majors for students that may washout of more difficult ones are offered. Its worth noting that 17.4% of Penn State bachelor degrees are in business compared to 8.8% for Minnesota. In addition, Penn State has a rather generous drop add policy which prevents many students from flunking out.
My point here is that a higher graduation rate may not mean that the students that graduate are better educated.

I've gotta go to work now.

Mr. B. said...

Again, thanks for your analysis, Veblen.

Although it is true that a higher graduation rate many not mean that the students who do graduate are better educated, a low graduation rate makes people in a state perhaps reluctant to support the University?

In Penn State's case this isn't a very good argument because the state support at PS is exceedingly low. Our's is tanking, too. I hope that the state of Minnesota will be more generous if our highest priority is affordable education and a decent graduation rate. We should forget about this "top public research universities in the world stuff" and keep our eye on the ball.

Bill Gleason