Top 10 lists, “best of” rankings, quality classifications and performance measures – it seems everywhere you look as the new school year begins, there’s a new guide to America’s colleges and universities. OSU is increasingly prominent in many rankings and is included in several guides this fall in new or different ways.
The prestigious Fiske Guide to Colleges 2009 listed OSU as one of 23 public university “best buys” in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Produced for the past 25 years by Edward Fiske, former education editor of The New York Times, the guide, which is roughly the size of a metropolitan area phone book, includes its best-buy list annually to recognize schools that offer outstanding academic quality at an affordable price.
“In the face of today’s skyrocketing tuition rates, students and families in all economic circumstances are looking for ways to get the best value for their education dollar,” read the guide. “Fortunately, there are some bargains to be found in higher education; it just takes a bit of shopping around with a little guidance along the way.”
In the guide’s lengthy entry on OSU, it notes that “OSU “is strong in many departments, including biotechnology, forestry and engineering. Says one satisfied freshman, ‘If you are looking for a college that is close-knit and has a friendly college town, OSU is the place to go!’”
Just as widely recognized is the Kaplan College Guide 2009, which added another high-profile recognition to OSU’s national image when it named the university one of America’s top 25 “cutting edge green colleges.” A special section on those campuses leads the 778-page book, and OSU’s entry recognized myriad green projects, courses and organizations at Oregon State.
“Oregon State University has the impressive distinction of being only one of seven schools in the United States that uses 100 percent renewable energy or purchases enough to offset its use of traditional energy sources,” says the entry, in part. “This environmentally sound practice goes hand in hand with OSU’s singing of the Presidents Climate Commitment. OSU has not taken this commitment lightly, fast-tracking its greenhouse gas emission inventory, which was completed more than a year in advance of its deadline.”
Among the rankings, none receives more attention — or criticism — than the annual guide produced by U.S. News & World Report. Though the magazine’s rankings and the surveys upon which they are based have undergone significant changes over the past 20 years, they continue to anger college leaders nationwide – as much as anything, for the disproportionate amount of time and attention the U.S. News rankings demand.
OSU ranks in the deceptively-titled “third tier” of the magazine’s 2009 Best Colleges rankings, the same tier it has occupied for some years (the guide’s top 50 institutions and second-tier schools are collapsed into a single primary grouping). While not much changed for OSU in the U.S. News calculations, there were developments in areas such as “peer assessment score” and in rankings of individual disciplines that were important for OSU.
For the second consecutive year, for instance, OSU ranked 2.9 on the 5-point peer assessment score, which is based on the votes of leading officials of all participating universities. Only one other university in the third tier (University of Illinois-Chicago, at 3.0) fared better, while OSU scored equal to or better than 38 institutions in the top tier, up from 27 the previous year.
Also, the College of Engineering ranked 70th among Best Programs for institutions whose highest degree is a doctorate. This was the college’s first inclusion in the top programs list.
But after all the number crunching is said and done, do the various rankings really matter, especially for arguably the most important audience, potential students? OSU Admissions Director Michele Sandlin says those who influence students’ enrollment decisions – high school guidance counselors and parents, for instance – may place stock in rankings and guidebooks, but she’s not so sure students are paying attention.
“Students are doing everything online – going to search engines and getting information directly from colleges and universities themselves. Ninety percent of our applications now come through the Web. That’s where the students are,” Sandlin said. “I don’t know the ultimate impact of those guides. I have to answer questions related to them at parent nights, but I’m not sure how much they really affect students.”