College-bound students interested in an education at a Big 12 university might first consider KU and UT but remain wary of Texas Tech and OSU.
The University of Texas in Austin is bullish on setting the academic standard for an expanded Big Eight Conference and knocking Kansas University from its perch as the league's scholarly pacesetter.
Interviews and a review of college guides indicate the four additions to the Big Eight -- UT, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor -- offer students a mixture of excellence and mediocrity.
UT is arguably the new conference's top school, given its educational reputation, cost and graduation rate. For years, KU claimed the No. 1 spot in the Big Eight.
"Stop! I'm blushing!" said John Black, UT's student body president, when read statistics regarding the school's academic standing.
"UT-Austin has always had a good reputation," said David Ambler, vice chancellor for student affairs at KU. "I'll match KU's undergraduate education with any institution I know. That and 30 cents won't get you a cup of coffee."
Many college officials disdain attempts to rank schools in terms of academics, best bargains, dormitory food, social life and sports -- until they get a good review. A high score in a guide is fodder for college marketers, who know potential students have a bottomless appetite for this kind of information.
The Big 12 Conference will start taking shape this academic year when minor sports from the Texas schools begin some competition against Big Eight institutions. The enlarged conference begins playing basketball and football in 1996.
According to several guides, the Lone Star members of the Big 12 generally rank this way: UT on top, Texas A&M and Baylor in the middle, Texas Tech on the bottom.
The 1995 Fiske Guide to Colleges, which surveys about 300 colleges and universities, awarded KU and UT a four-star rating out of five in academics.
Seven other Big 12 schools in Fiske received three stars. Fiske didn't review Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or Kansas State.
The big daddy among college guides is the one prepared by U.S. News and World Report. In the latest edition, UT was designated the "best value" in the nation. KU ranked 17th among 227 on that list.
Alan Miller, a Texas Tech assistant professor and recipient of a doctoral degree from UT, said it would be hard for any other Big 12 university to beat UT for quality of education per dollar spent on tuition.
Black, a Houston senior studying philosophy, did come clean with a negative about UT. With an enrollment of about 50,000 there are probably too many students, he said.
One of the most popular dorms, Jester Center, has its own zip code.
"The faculty-to-student ratio, many argue, undermines the quality of education," he said.
UT's student-to-faculty ratio is 19:1, according to Money magazine's guide. KU has a better ratio at 16:1, but it can't match UT's graduation rate. Over a six-year period, UT graduated 63 percent of its students, while KU graduated 55 percent.
Big 12 averages: student-to-faculty ratio, 18:1; graduation rate, 54 percent.
Keith Randall, Baylor's media director, said university officials in Waco were proud of the school's graduation rate. An astounding 71 percent of Baylor students earned a diploma in six years.
"If we were in the Big 12 right now we would have the highest graduation rate," he said.
Of course, Baylor will be the only private university in the Big 12. It has the advantage of admitting students most qualified to excel at Baylor. In contrast, KU has open admissions.
Although Texas A&M maintains a lofty 66 percent graduation rate, it has a 24:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which is tied with Oklahoma State University for worst in the Big 12.
"A&M is top-notch academically," Randall said. "Don't underestimate them."
U.S. News's assessment: Texas A&M was the country's second-best educational value behind UT. Both universities receive millions of dollars annually from a state-controlled endowment financed by West Texas oil revenue. Texas Tech and Baylor don't receive any of that loot.
Among the newcomers, Texas Tech's 38 percent graduation rate is the worst. That's slightly better than the 37 percent recorded at the University of Oklahoma and OSU, the graduation cellar-dwellers.
Miller, who teaches classics and comparative literature at Texas Tech, said the university's second-rate status was due to its small endowment and weak admission standards.
"This, in terms of Texas schools, in part, accounts for why we are so much further down the ladder from UT and A&M," Miller said.