April 5, 2001

C.U. Tops Grad School Ranks

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In the newly released April 9 issue of U.S. News and World Report, Cornell continued to score highly in the magazine’s annual graduate school rankings. Cornell’s Schools of Business, Medicine, and Law all placed within the top twenty in their respective fields while the Engineering and Veterinary Schools made the top ten.

The 2002 graduate school rankings did not come as a shock to most students and faculty, as there was little fluctuation in Cornell’s rankings in comparison to the rankings in previous years.

“A couple have gone up a place, and some have dropped some,” said Vice President for University Relations Henrik N. Dullea ’61.

Regarding Cornell’s consistent performance during the past 30 years, Walter I. Cohen, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School said, “Universities are like air-craft carriers. It takes them a long time to move.”

U.S. News evaluates over 1,000 graduate programs each year based on statistical and reputation data, according to the U.S. News website, www.usnews.com.

Statistical data encompass inputs and outputs including the quality of students and faculty as well as a program’s success in helping their graduates obtain high paying jobs. Reputation data are collected through surveys sent to deans, department heads and “knowledgeable individuals in academia,” according to the website.

However, Cohen and Dullea warned against the survey’s realistic accuracy. Cohen said that the methodology isn’t good enough to do anything more than to cluster the schools. He said he imagines that it is difficult to change the overall rankings and is surprised that statistically, any of the rankings would move at all.

“Whenever you put numbers on something, you have a natural tendency to think you are getting precision,” Cohen said. “But since these numbers are reputational numbers from department heads, the error comes from the ranks.”

Dullea also cautioned “anyone who tries to say there is a precise difference between number four or five in the field” against taking U.S. News’ rankings too earnestly.

“You could be in one position one year and another position the next year,” he said.

Any effort put into the betterment of the University is aimed solely at improving the University and not at directly boost rankings, Cohen said.

“We wouldn’t hire faculty in one area in order to improve the rankings unless we were committed to that area,” Cohen explained. “We can only hope that it will improve the rankings.”

“When I talk to faculty around the University, they are not interested in the difference between one or two points,” he added.

Lotus Wang grad, said that the hype behind rankings is often overrated. “It’s not always the students’ choice” which school accepts them and what the school’s rank happens to be. “It’s the school that picks the student,” she said, downplaying students’ tendencies to base their choices purely on reputation and statistics.

In choosing a grad school, Cohen said that anyone who is sensible will do their own research.

“My number one choice isn’t the highest-ranking school according to U.S. News,” said Janelle Cunningham ’01, who said that visiting with different professors was the biggest deciding factor in choosing a graduate school.

“Rank isn’t everything,” she said.

Archived article by Janet Liao