August 19, 2010

Rankings reflect quality of education at SIUC

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale earned recognition from U. S. News & World Report in its “Best Colleges 2011” rankings, released this week.

SIUC entered the list of “Best National Universities” at 183, and landed at 101 in the “Top Public Universities: National Universities” list. The lists reflect the top 75 percent of schools in each category.

The “Best National Universities” list assigns a number rank to what U. S. News & World Report considers the top 191 national universities out of the more than 1,400 it surveyed. The magazine defines “National Universities” as those that offer a full range of undergraduate majors, master’s and doctoral degrees, and that have a significant research enterprise. The rankings continue through 260, but universities that ranked below 191 are called “Second Tier” and do not receive a number ranking. The “Top Public Universities” list goes to 107 with no consideration for “Second Tier.”

The authors of the methodology section of the rankings, “How We Calculate the Rankings,” by Robert J. Morse and Samuel Flanigan, note that rankings alone should not determine how a student chooses his or her university. They write, “The host of intangibles that make up the college experience can’t simply be measured by a series of data points.”

However, the rankings do represent a systematic approach to determining certain characteristics of a university. Some of the factors the authors consider include class size and percentage of full-time faculty, both areas where SIUC not only stands strong but has also improved over the past several years.

“The rankings convey the strengths we have here with the number of full-time faculty; the very large percentage of small classes, which are conducive to a positive learning environment; and the low percentage of large lectures, which may be off-putting, especially to freshmen,” SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “We offer a high quality and excellent education at SIUC, and I think this is reflected in the ranking.”

At SIUC, 50 percent of the classes offered cap out at 20 or fewer students. And only 5 percent of classes include 50 or more students. These numbers reflect the ratio of students to faculty (15.7 to 1) and the high percentage of full-time faculty -- 96 percent.

U. S. News & World Report includes, with its rankings, a list of “Academic Programs to Look For.” Though those programs do not show up in the rankings specifically, students at SIUC have access to all of the programs listed. Those programs are: First-year experiences, internships/co-ops, undergraduate research/creative projects, learning communities, study abroad, service learning, senior capstone, and writing in the disciplines.

“We have many opportunities on this campus for student success,” Cheng said. “We have real potential for growth.”

SIUC launched its Saluki First Year program during the 2008-09 academic year and participated in the Foundations of Excellence in the First College Year program developed by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. The program helps students make the transition from high school to college life, and to become self-directed learners who will maximize their University experience at SIUC.

Several academic programs at SIUC require an internship, and have the resources to help students obtain them. The SIU Alumni Association’s extern program uses the extensive SIUC alumni network to place students with Saluki professionals in their chosen careers. The extern program generally takes place over spring break. Internships often last the duration of an academic year or longer.

Undergraduate research, creative and academic project opportunities abound at SIUC. The recent creation of the Research Rookies program gives freshmen the chance to engage in individual research or creative projects from their very first semester at SIUC. Other programs, including the REACH and McNair Scholars programs, offer students grants to pursue projects under the tutelage of mentor faculty, and to publish in a University-wide undergraduate research publication.

Living Learning Communities in the residence halls offer students the opportunity to live on a designated floor or in a hall with other students in their major or in similar majors. LLCs help students improve academically and help students feel more connected to their University community, which can be a key factor in keeping a student on the graduation track.

SIUC students travel the globe through the Study Abroad program, which offers opportunities pertaining to every college on campus. Students may choose to study abroad for a few weeks or for an academic year. Students have learned business management skills in Japan, studied ecosystems in Costa Rica and Panama, and immersed themselves in French culture in Paris, to name a few recent study abroad experiences.

Service learning is a major part of SIUC’s commitment to community outreach. The Saluki Volunteer Corps helps students find volunteer opportunities relevant to their majors and future career goals, helping students learn by helping but also giving them a preview of the possibilities their majors offer. In addition, the University is home to more than 450 Registered Student Organizations, many of which incorporate service learning into their mission.

Many programs at SIUC include a senior project in major requirements, and writing skills are part of the University Core Curriculum. Writing centers across campus help students meet the demands of writing in different disciplines.