April 11, 2007

C.U. Grad School Rankings Rise

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U.S. News and World Report, purveyor of all things rankings related, has recently issued its yearly rankings of graduate schools across the nation. This year’s surprise, however, lies not in Cornell’s consistently strong showing, but in the ranking system itself as it is becoming obsolete.
Cornell’s professional schools — the Johnson School of Management, the Law School, Weill Medical College and the College of Veterinary Medicine — are no strangers to the top of the U.S. News lists.
The vet school was ranked number one this year by U.S. News, as it has been since 2000. [img_assist|nid=22777|title=A quick study.|desc=Quintao Xing grad gets some work done in the Sage Hall atrium.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=66]
This year, the Johnson School of Management tied with Yale University’s graduate business program to rank 14th in the nation, up two spots from last year.
Amanda Soule Shaw, senior project manager and financial analyst with the MBA program at the Johnson School, noted that while “the rankings are something out there that are important to us,” they are far from an influential factor in the way the program markets itself to prospective students. Shaw is a member of The Sun’s Board of Directors.
On the slight increase from last year’s ranking, Shaw said it was due, in part, to the methodology of the ranking system. “They rate a lot on kind of quantitative factors of our class: average GPA, etc. That’s where we saw a change in our profile. A lot of the U.S. News survey is reputational,” she said, referring to the component of the rankings formula that accounts for a program’s reputation, which is judged by other business program deans and comprises 25 percent of the ranking formula.
While the Johnson School has seen an increase in the number of applications this year, it is unlikely related to its improved ranking. “A lot of students are attracted to our program in general,” said Shaw, noting the business school’s strong programs in finance and marketing.
“Our strategy is that we want to be a top business school,” she says.
Cornell’s Weill Medical College in New York City has enjoyed a similar consistency in the rankings. It was again ranked 15th in the nation among research-based medical schools, tying with the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. In ranking medical schools, U.S. News and World Report also gathered information on what it calls “school trends,” such as tuition and size of the student body.

Weill’s enrollment is among the smallest of the medical schools in the nation at 405 students. The largest, University of Illinois-Chicago, has an enrollment of 1,431 students.

The rankings also noted Weill’s 5.0 faculty-to-student ratio and its 101-member first-year class. Weill and its fellow Ivy, Harvard Medicine, tied in the amount of financial aid given to students as each school provides aid to approximately 79 percent of its students.

The Law School also saw no change in its rankings from 2006, coming in at 13th in the nation. Cornell Law School also received a 0.44 out of a possible 1.0 in the U.S. News’ diversity index, a ranking it only formulates for law programs. The list noted that, at 13 percent, Asian-Americans comprised the largest minority at the law school.

In a similar stance to that of the Johnson School, Martha Fitzgerald, communications director at the law school, said, “While we look at [the rankings] from time to time, and everyone else seems to think they’re really important, we don’t put a lot of energy into tweaking our communications to impact our rankings.”

“When [applicants] look at the stats, it’s really like splitting hairs,” said Fitzgerald. “It ultimately comes down to what kind of campus and location and what they’re drawn to personally. I would imagine that if they were weighing in on being accepted by numbers 12, 13 or 14, they would have to weigh in on what personally draws them.”

The relevance of the rankings system has been under scrutiny for some time now. In March, the president of Sarah Lawrence College publicly accused U.S. News of preparing to publish false information about the college — specifically, an estimated SAT average about 200 points lower than that of Sarah Lawrence’s peer institutions — due to the fact that Sarah Lawrence no longer collects SAT scores. Ten other liberal arts colleges have joined the anti-rankings efforts, sending out letters to hundreds of college presidents proposing a new set of policies to challenge the existing rankings scheme.

On the growing trend toward rendering rankings obsolete, Fitzgerald said, “I wish it were true. The dean [of the law school] has participated in a [similar] document being signed by lots of deans around the country. These rankings are making a lot of money for these institutions — U.S. News, etc. — which is unnecessary.”

While the highly publicized rankings are widely read every year, Fitzgerald emphasizes that the “core service” of the law school is focusing on the students.

“[Focusing on the rankings] takes way too much from the core services,” she said.