What number best rates Kansas University?
To answer that question, you have to sort through a lot of digits.
KU comes in 97th among all universities on the U.S. News & World Report rankings and 45th among public universities.
The School of Education ranks 15th among its public peers on the current U.S. News listing, or 24th compared with all schools.
And the School of Law is 35th when compared only with other public institutions, or 70th among all schools.
Then there's the ranking for best buys in the U.S. KU comes in the top 14 in that category, according to the Fiske Guide to Colleges.
It's nice to sum up a school in a single number, and few in higher education deny taking a peek.
"Everybody looks at those rankings," KU Provost Richard Lariviere said.
But KU administrators maintain the numbers don't give the whole picture.
"Our job here is to contribute to the world's knowledge, to educate our students and to help Kansas economically," Lariviere said. "If U.S. News & World Report were interested in those criteria, I'd be much, much more concerned about how we ranked in their evaluations."
In the latest U.S. News college rankings, KU's place among public universities slipped three notches from the 42nd spot the prior year.
KU has slid significantly in the rankings since 1998, when the university was 30th among public schools. The rankings have ebbed and flowed since then.
The engineering school is tied for 45th in the country among public universities and 77th overall. The School of Business ranks 36th among publics and 57th overall.
"Rankings are just a proxy for quality," Chancellor Robert Hemenway said. "People look at the rankings because they want to be assured that the institution they're attending is a quality institution."
Hemenway said KU fared well on the academic portion of the rankings but came up short because it was not a highly selective university like the Ivy League schools.
"That's an area where we don't compete because KU still has qualified admissions," he said.
Lariviere said he didn't have a goal for raising the rankings.
"I don't always believe them, nor do I endow them with the power to shape our policies," he said.