Archive for Tuesday, October 12, 1999

SCHOOL RANKINGS MISLEADING

October 12, 1999

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Dean of the Kansas University School of Engineering

Recently, the Journal-World published a news account of the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings of undergraduate engineering programs at universities throughout the country.

On the heels of the Sunflower Classic pitting the football teams from Kansas University and Kansas State University, it is appropriate to add some context to the U.S. News rankings. Ranking schools of engineering is far more complex than reading the score in an athletic contest.

KU, KSU and Wichita State University work cooperatively to improve engineering education throughout the state of Kansas. When it comes to athletics, competition is alive and well. But when students are involved, and benefits to the state of Kansas, cooperation is key.

Because of this level of cooperation, it was distressing to see the attempt to differentiate between the schools of engineering at KU and Kansas State.

What U.S. News measured on a 1-5 scale was the reputation of various engineering schools. Various deans and senior faculty, including myself, were polled and asked to rate schools. There were no criteria given for the rankings. Each respondent gave his subjective opinion as to the quality of the education offered.

The difference between the rankings of KU and K-State engineering schools was one-tenth of one point (2.9 versus 3.0). This difference is insignificant. There were six engineering schools in the Big 12 conference KU, Kansas State, Texas Tech University, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Nebraska which scored in the 2.8-3.0 range. All of these schools have similar missions and strengths as well as a good balance between graduate and undergraduate education and research.

I am proud of the faculty, staff and students in the KU School of Engineering. The faculty is distinguished. Two emeritus professors and one current professor are members of the National Academy of Engineering. They are the only faculty members of a Kansas university to hold such distinction. Many other KU faculty are fellows in professional organizations and we have recently hired several new faculty members who earned doctoral degrees at some of the nation's most prestigious schools.

KU engineering students also excel. Their average math ACT score is the highest of engineering schools in Kansas. Our graduates have pursued their studies at some of the nation's top schools or have secured jobs at wages higher than national averages. Currently enrolled students compete in various national competitions and excel. KU aerospace engineering students, for example, have won more aircraft design competitions than any school in the nation. KU chemical engineering students have also won more competitions in process design than any other school in the country.

As an engineer, I obviously believe numbers are important. However, I believe numbers must be interpreted and analyzed. A careful analysis of those numbers presented by U.S. News reveals insignificant differences between most engineering programs of Big 12 schools.

I cheered for the Jayhawks against the Wildcats on Saturday. On Monday, however, I was back on the lookout for ways to cooperate with the deans of the other schools of engineering in Kansas to continue to improve engineering education and service to the state.

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