September 28, 2010

National Research Council Releases Grad School Rankings

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The National Research Council released its comprehensive rankings of American doctoral programs Tuesday, a full three years after the initial projected release date and a full 15 years after the last released rankings, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The report employs new — and some say overly complex — ranking mechanisms.

Under the NRC’s previous reports, programs were given a single number, as part of a traditional ranking system. Now, they are placed within two ranges, one for “R-rankings” derived from their reputations and curricula, and one for “S-rankings,” derived from faculty opinion.

Thus, Cornell’s philosophy program, once simply ranked 8th in the country, is now ranked either between 2 and 19 by its R-ranking, or between 16 and 34 by the S-ranking.

According to a press release issued by the graduate school on Monday, over 75 percent of Cornell graduate programs ranked in the top 20 for R-rankings; two-thirds ranked in the top 20 for S-rankings. However, the data used in the report was culled from the 2005-06 school year, and does not account for recent changes to programs.

Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth said that the “notion of calculating rankings of ranges is too complex and difficult to understand in any meaningful way.”

She added that, during the time lag between when information was gathered and now, Cornell’s graduate program “has changed considerably.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that many University officials found the time lapse — between when the information was first gathered and its publication — to be “troublesome,” due to the financial crises that have transformed many campuses.

Knuth said that the University’s financial crisis “would not substantively affect” the 20 variables reported in the NRC study.

“Throughout the budget cuts, we really tried hard to maintain our level of support for graduate fellowship,” Knuth said.

Still, Knuth maintained that the rankings spoke to “both the depth and breadth” of Cornell’s graduate program, citing the NRC’s finding that Cornell is the “highest private institution in terms of research graduate programs ranked.”

Knuth said that having large numbers of highly ranked programs is especially important for a graduate school, since graduate students form their Ph.D. committees from multiple departments.

Knuth added that the “…detailed data that underlies this ranking” would be useful in determining how to shape the future of the graduate school.

The rankings now provide Cornell with the ability to “identify which of the 20 variables we performed better on and which we performed worse on in relation to our peer institutions,” Knuth said.

Jeremiah P. Ostriker, chair of the NRC committee, told reporters that typical, ordinal ranks offered a “spurious precision,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The NRC study cost approximately $5 million to put together. Cornell contributed $20,000, plus the cost of collecting and reporting data, the process of which took a full staff several months, according to an email from Knuth.

Original Author: Jeff Stein