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Making the grade

By Beau Hayhoe | and Ian Kullgren

Amidst the start of an academic year with record tuition rates and the largest incoming freshman class in history, one well-recognized ranking provides some evidence education quality at MSU is stable.

On Tuesday, U.S. News and World Report released its 2012 list of Best Colleges, a nationally distributed report that takes into account everything from class sizes to student-faculty ratios to graduation rates in measuring American higher education institutions.

MSU ranked 71st among all national universities, an eight-spot jump over last year’s ranking, with several academic programs placing among the best in the nation.

MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business was ranked 24th in the country among all business colleges, and the college’s supply chain management program was ranked first in the country.

But MSU as a whole still sits below eight other Big Ten schools, including the University of Michigan, which ranked 28th.

MSU tied with the University of Iowa for its No. 71 ranking. The University of Indiana ranked No. 75, and University of Nebraska ranked No. 101.

National universities’ participation in the U.S. News & World Report rankings was down 6 percent this year, with about 53 percent of the total number of universities providing their information for the report’s purpose according to a recent article by Inside Higher Education.

University officials said the ranking can have significant impact on admissions and faculty recruitment, as many see it as a national authority on the institute’s value and prestige.

This year’s ranking is more representative of MSU’s national standing than last year’s ranking of No. 79 since the university was ranked at No. 71 three out of the past four years, said Robert Morse, U.S. News and World Report’s director of data research, who also is an MSU alumnus.

“It shows that last year was somewhat of an aberration,” he said.

The impact
MSU’s eight-spot jump in the report’s rankings this year is “pretty significant,” senior associate provost June Youatt said.

“What it really says is we continue to move forward and advance some initiatives,” she said.
Youatt said the university remains conscious of its national reputation on a year-to-year basis.

“The way that you advance (in these rankings) is to continue to do really good work year after year after year,” she said.

“A number of these things … are just the consequence of really hard work.”

The ratings also can illustrate a university’s mission and values. MSU was the nation’s seventh-highest ranked university on the report’s “A schools for B student,” list, which Morse said shows the university’s desire to be academically diverse in its admissions process, allowing students with “nonstratospheric” applications to attend.

“They’re not just trying to admit the most elite students,” Morse said.

“They’re trying to have a bigger tent, and (they are) letting more people have a chance.”

Stepping up
Some programs received significant attention from U.S. News and World Report, including MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business.

The college broke the report’s top-25 this year, after the magazine ranked the college at 28th last year.

The ranking comes on the heels of a summer announcement by Forbes, who ranked MSU’s MBA program 19th in the country.

Faculty and staff within the college still have a great deal of work to do to remain relevant nationwide, said Stefanie Lenway, the college’s dean.

“It has to be acknowledged that we’re working with a lot less resources than our competitor schools,” she said.

“It’s a lot of partnering with companies. It’s getting alumni excited about what we’re doing.”
One department within the college that made a recognizable leap was MSU’s supply chain management program.

After sitting in the second spot behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s top-ranked program last year, U.S. News and World Report officials ranked MSU’s program No. 1 this fall.

The ranking is the result of several key advancements made in the past year by school officials, said Dave Closs, chairperson in the Department of Supply Chain Management.

“We’ve been more proactive at working with recruiters and companies,” Closs said. “These companies see us doing interesting things.”

Supply chain management junior Eric Sundley said the ranking will “almost certainly” draw new students to the program.

“Coming in (as a business student) … when you see something that’s ranked that high, that kind of motivates you,” he said.

Ranking realities
Youatt said, although competition is important, the administration focuses on results and class effectiveness variables — such as student-faculty ratio and graduation rate — rather than placing emphasis on its place in the Big Ten.

“Of course we aspire to climb above our colleagues, that’s part of what makes us (part of) the Big Ten,” Youatt said.

“(But) there’s structural differences among universities. … There are a whole set of variables that don’t make us equal.”

The university also emphasizes its placement in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. According to MSU’s website, the university has landed in that group’s top-100 ranking for eight consecutive years.

But not all rankings are perfect, including the U.S. News and World Reports’ list, said Stephen Sigler, the Ernest DeWitt Burton Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Chicago.

“There is nothing that will capture in one number what every potential student will want captured,” Sigler said, “All rankings are problematic in some respects.”

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