April 17, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Rethinking the rankings on Cornell’s public policy program

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The director of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs criticizes the focus on U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of the University’s public policy program in April 8th’s news story.

To the Editor:

Re: “No New Progress on Public Policy School,” News, April 8

The Sun article April 8th on Cornell’s progress toward a public policy school would have been more informative if it had not so readily accepted the claim that Cornell’s public policy program ranks 36th in the country. This rating shows how flawed is U.S. News & World Report’s system of ranking. Looking at our applications from prospective students looking for places to study in the realm of public affairs and rates of acceptance of admission offers, Cornell and its programs should be considered in the top 10.

Specifically regarding the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA), which I know best, we are very successful in attracting students for our MPA program in competition with other top-ranked schools in the country. Last year, CIPA applications were up by 38 percent, and this year again by another 15 percent, even while applications to other programs at Cornell were steady or declined. The quality of applicants to CIPA has also been rising each year over the past three years as measured by GRE scores. The U.S. News ranking doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The quality of CIPA’s program is confirmed by having six of its fellows awarded Presidential Management Fellowships in this year’s national competition. With two additional Presidential Management Fellows selected from other Cornell programs, Cornell is in the top ranks of quality public-policy graduate programs as assessed by national panels of public affairs practitioners. This quality is reflected in the increased demand for admission to our MPA program, noted above.

I agree with Vice-Provost Seeber and Professor Burkhauser that it would be beneficial for Cornell to undertake some organizational reconfiguration of its academic resources. This could make our institution more coherent and more visible in the public policy realm. But there is no warrant for an inferiority complex based on U.S. News rankings, and such a complex should not drive a reorganization effort. There are many good reasons for proceeding to build on the faculty, student and curricular strengths that our institution has in the domain of public affairs. CIPA faculty and Fellows are ready to participate in any such discussions whenever the Cornell administration is ready to proceed on this.

Norman Uphoff

Acting Director, CIPA