August 18, 2006

SIUC moves up in U.S. News & World Report rankings

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale moved up a notch in U.S. News & World Report magazine's annual ranking of American colleges and universities.

SIUC moved into the third tier, up from the fourth, in the national universities category. Joining SIUC in that tier were fellow state schools University of Illinois Chicago and Illinois State University. The report also placed SIUC peer institutions Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech and West Virginia University in that tier, as well as aspirational peer Louisiana State University.

SIUC compared favorably with other state schools, its peers and aspirational peers nationwide. SIUC's peer institutions — those comparable to the University at this time — are Auburn University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Ohio University, Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech, Washington State University and West Virginia University.

Aspirational peers — those SIUC is striving to emulate — are Louisiana State University, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Kentucky and University of Missouri Columbia.

The report places a school in the national universities category by virtue of its inclusion in categories developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2000. About 250 schools offering a wide variety of undergraduate majors, masters and doctoral degrees comprise the category. There are 162 public and 86 private colleges, institutions and universities in the category.

The ratings are based on quantitative measures experts say reliably indicate the quality of academics at institutions. Those measurements include peer assessments, freshman retention levels, class size, number of full-time faculty and average alumni giving rate, among others. The report also uses its own "non-partisan view of what matters in education" to make the rankings.

SIUC Chancellor Walter V. Wendler said the rankings provide an important perspective on the work of the University.

"We appreciate the U.S. News & World Report rankings because they give us a clear, unvarnished opinion from outside our University, about key factors of comparison such as how we are perceived by other universities, the quality of our faculty, the size of our classes, the commitment of our alumni and other key indicators. These are important.

"Being included in the national university category for universities including research universities, of which there are about 250 in this study, and placing in the top 150, we consider that in itself an accomplishment because we are above the half-way mark. We are also pleased that we have consistently maintained our position right at the end of the third tier or at the top of the fourth tier.

"Still, we need to be careful about putting too much stock in the U.S. News & World Report instrument because the value of the University comes in part from the programs we offer here," Wendler said. "Our location in Southern Illinois and Carbondale and the importance of the University to this region makes it a very special place to go to school. So these important things U.S. News does not consider."

Peer assessment is a major factor in the rankings, accounting for 25 percent of an institution's overall score. Peer assessment, the report states, allows top academics to account for intangibles. The more than 2,000 survey participants were asked to evaluate their peers' institution on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest or "distinguished."

SIUC received a 2.6 in peer assessment, compared to a 2.5 for fellow state school ISU and a 2.7 for peer school Oklahoma State University. UIC scored a 3.2 while Louisiana State University received a 2.9. Texas Tech and West Virginia University both scored a 2.8 in that assessment.

Maintaining high standards for tenure, becoming a national model in the preparation and training of faculty and graduate assistants and establishing a core curriculum that is nationally known for instructional innovation are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

SIUC was a tier leader in keeping class sizes small, with 47 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students and only 6 percent having 50 or more. At ISU, for example, 32 percent of the classes have fewer than 20 students while 12 percent have 50 or more. UIC reported 36 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Peer institutions in the same tier were as follows: Oklahoma State University, 28 percent and 16 percent, respectively; Texas Tech, 23 percent and 21 percent, respectively; and West Virginia University, 34 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Aspirational peer Louisiana State University reported 31 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

SIUC's score in that area was better than the majority of fellow state schools, peer schools and aspirational peer schools. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, for example, which was ranked No. 41 overall in the national universities category, reported 34 percent of its classes had fewer than 20 students while 19 percent — more than three times the rate at SIUC — had 50 or more students.

SIUC also was among the leaders of its tier group in percent of full-time faculty. Fully 94 percent of the University's faculty met that standard, compared to 88 percent for West Virginia University, 90 percent for ISU, 91 percent for UIC and 93 percent for Oklahoma State University. Texas Tech and Louisiana State University reported 98 percent and 95 percent, respectively.

SIUC's score in this measurement compared favorably with other peer and fellow state schools in other tiers, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which also has a 94 percent full-time faculty rate.