The University of Wisconsin increased in rank throughout the past year, moving up in line as one of “America’s Best Colleges” in the eyes of U.S. News and World Report.
The magazine released its annual report Wednesday and listed UW up one spot from last year’s rankings. UW is currently tied for 41st place with University of California-Santa Barbara and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute out of a pool of 281 national doctoral universities, according to the report.
UW Provost Paul DeLuca said reports like this one have more of an effect on the university’s prestige as seen by people outside the state of Wisconsin, rather than prospective in-state students. He added he has found Wisconsin citizens are already fairly aware of the university’s achievements.
“I think it’s bigger outside Wisconsin,” DeLuca said. “People in the state already know, but people around the nation will then ask, gee, [I] wonder what this public institution on this list is.”
DeLuca said with the increased positive nationwide awareness provided by UW’s ranking, there will also be an effect on prospective students that may ultimately lead to an increase in applications.
The change in ranking, according to DeLuca, was largely as a result of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, a program aimed at expanding need-based aid for students.
“Students are having success in their career paths, graduation rate is higher and student experience is better,” DeLuca said.
However, DeLuca said he is skeptical of similar university rankings in general. UW education professor Cliff Conrad agreed with DeLuca on that notion and said he has found rankings such as these tell more about the resources than of the achievements made from these resources.
“What they tell us [is] who [are] the elite universities,” Conrad said. “They tell us a lot about reputation. These indicators are about inputs and outputs. If you have all these resources, then you are going to have a good reputation.”
In addition to focusing more on reputation rather than quality, Conrad said he also feels these rankings face limitations when combining both private and public institutions on the same list. Conrad cited financial differences as a major issue that “heightens the canyon” between the two types of universities.
DeLuca said because UW is a state public land grant university, it does not have the same selectivity as private universities hold, adding that it has less selectivity than even some public California schools.
Both DeLuca and Conrad asserted their accordance with UW’s ranking, despite the concerns they voiced with ranking reports. Conrad said he found UW to be a “good” institution, though he expressed concern for the difference between “good” and “great.” Conrad noted schools like Stanford and Harvard have endowments several times larger than those of UW.
“Most of us don’t have the financial resources,” Conrad said, referring to public universities. “I worry a little bit. Because of that, we may not have the human resources.”
According to Conrad, UW is at a disadvantaged position and is consequently losing faculty to the better benefits at other institutions. However, he added the higher ranking will help maintain quality education at the university.
According to a university statement, UW was also ranked as one of the top 10 public universities in the nation for 2013.