Posted by: Opey | August 21, 2007

UW Falls in Rankings

I generally refuse to give much merit to any of the US News rankings or the Princeton Review rankings, but I did take notice of them over the past few weeks when they were released and UW took a hit in two of the polls where they have traditionally ranked very well. In the most disheartening fall, the university slipped to spot 38 on US News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges 2008 rankings. The US News rankings claim the following methodology:

The U.S. News college rankings, published on Aug. 18, 2007, are based on several key measures of quality, described below. U.S. News uses these measures to capture the various dimensions of academic quality at each college. These measures fall into seven broad categories: peer assessment; graduation and retention rate; faculty resources (for example, class size); student selectivity (for example, average admission test scores of incoming students); financial resources; alumni giving; and, only for national universities and liberal arts colleges, graduation rate performance. The indicators include both input measures, which reflect the quality of students, faculty, and other resources used in education, and outcome measures, which capture the results of the education an individual receives.

Now, if I am correct, I don’t believe much has changed for the negative regarding student selectivity, graduation/retention rates or graduation performance rate. So that leaves 2 related possibilities for the explanation of the drop in rank. The first is that UW is less competitive compared to other undergraduate schools. This is probably a result of the second reason, a decrease in state support for the university. Just this week stories have been running about the lack of housing for incoming freshmen. Within the stories there is often mention of how UW plans to increase university housing space are being stymied by WI Republicans because the new dorms would be “too luxurious.” Last time I checked, living two to a room and sharing bathrooms with multiple students was not too luxurious, it is simply progress and the natural evolution of college housing, but I digress. What’s more important to take away from this story is the states refusal to adequately fund the university. There have been other evidence of this negative trend. One came in the form of the faculty drain that UW experienced over the past semester, especially in the renowned political science department. Between low salaries and cuts in other faculty resources, there was little to keep the best and brightest faculty in Madison. The other event that serves as evidence for the state’s poor support for UW was the call by Rep. Frank Lassee (R – Green Bay) to cut all state funding for the University of Wisconsin Law School. To find out my thoughts on that check here and here. Needless to say I’m not a big fan. The University of Wisconsin system is not only one of the greatest assets to the state from an educational standpoint, but it is also one of the largest employers in the state. If these funding cuts/freezes continue, the reputation and educational experience will continue to suffer and, while it might not be felt immediately, the state will suffer dire consequences in the forms of unemployment, “brain drain” and other economic pains.

In other ranking news, the University of Wisconsin managed to fall out of the top 10 in another ranking in which they had been a perennial powerhouse. It was announced that UW did not even crack the top 10 in this years addition of The Princeton Review’s Top 10 Party Schools.  For those of us that have been around the university for a few years, this is an ironically sad story.  I think it is safe to assume that most people realize that truly excessive drinking is not a great thing for college students or anyone for that matter.  Regardless of that, though, many students took UW’s ranking (often #1) as a badge of honor.  Madison still does ranks very highly in alcohol availability so there is still one trophy for the case.  We can probably thank the increases in downtown police presence and house party raids for this.  Now, if only the city focused more on more important downtown safety concerns and not on the 19-20 year olds in the bar or having a beer at a house party maybe we could do something about city crime statistics.

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