Kiplinger Magazine ranked the University of Wisconsin eighth out of 100 schools in its 2014 ranking of Best Values in Public Colleges this year, focusing on the university’s academic quality in relation to costs and financial aid.
The magazine claimed UW has a “highly desirable combination of academic quality and affordability” when compared with other public colleges and universities.
Generalized by the four categories of academic quality, annual costs, student body and financial aid, each school was examined and ranked in an objective fashion, according to the business magazine.
UW ranked highly across the board, especially for its accepted applicant pool. Among admitted students, 95 percent scored at least three points higher than the national average on the ACT.
The university’s consistently high rankings might be partially responsible for its impressive student body, Nicholas Hillman, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW, said.
“Rankings are a helpful tool for sharing the good works of a university with potential students,” he said. “Thinking about where to go to college, these are places they go to find information. Rankings are the first step in a university showing off what the campus has to students.”
Hillman said most universities are happy to be featured in these types of rankings, as long as the ranking is favorable.
While rankings are valuable for both students and colleges, Hillman said he doubts a ranking’s ability to be completely objective and all-encompassing. He said readers and potential students should always read rankings with a degree of skepticism.
“Do [rankings] tell us what we think they tell us?” he said. “This is an industry for publishers. They know they can sell magazines, get ads and gain support for products by giving rankings.”
Still, UW Provost Paul DeLuca said he was thrilled with the university’s newest ranking.
“I’m especially pleased that we went from 13 the previous year to eight this year,” DeLuca said.
He attributed the jump to changes in a number of important metrics, including an increase in the four-year graduation rate and an improved financial aid system. With 73 percent of all aid need being met by UW, many students can afford an education they might otherwise have to forego, he said.
DeLuca said another exciting statistic is the freshman retention rate, which he said may actually be a bit higher than Kiplinger’s estimate of 95 percent.
Through programs like Student Orientation, Advising and Registration and techniques such as early intervention, the transition to college is made much easier for UW freshmen, DeLuca said.
“Everything came relatively easy to them [during high school],” he said, referring to the idea that many freshman are shocked to find that college-level courses are much more difficult than their high school curriculum.
This transition, or “academic cultural shock,” can greatly affect how freshman respond to college and, in turn, whether or not they return to an institution after their first year, he said.
“We have dramatically improved the freshman experience,” DeLuca said. “We have worked hard at minimizing the impact of the academic cultural shock.”
DeLuca said he is proud of UW, especially compared to other Big Ten universities.
He pointed out that with the exception of Michigan, UW ranked higher than all other Big Ten schools.
“The rest of the Big Ten are in the 20s, 30s and 40s,” DeLuca said. “It has been a real improvement for us.”