Slipping in the rankings is never good news, so Kansas University’s drop in the U.S. News and World Reports college listing released Tuesday is disappointing.
It’s interesting, however, to look beyond KU’s decline from 98th in last year’s rankings to 104th in the new list to some of the factors that might have been at play.
First, KU is not alone; most other Big 12 schools also declined in the rankings. Only three schools were ranked higher than last year: University of Texas went from 47th to 45th, Baylor University from 80th to 79th and the University of Missouri from 102nd to 94th.
The report offers a comparison of tuition rates that undercuts KU’s ongoing claim that, despite rising tuition, it “still is a bargain” for students.
It’s no surprise that Baylor, the only private university in the Big 12, has the highest tuition rate. However, among the conference’s 11 public universities, the only school that charges higher tuition for in-state students than KU ($8,732) is Texas ($9,418). Only three of the public universities — Texas, Texas A&M and the University of Colorado — have higher tuition than KU for out-of-state students.
On the other hand, admissions and graduation rates cited in the U.S. News listing seem to confirm the contention of KU officials that the state should revisit its policy of qualified admissions for Kansas high school graduates. KU had one of the highest acceptance rates in the conference in fall 2009: 91 percent. Only Oklahoma was higher at 93 percent.
The report showed Kansas State with a 55 percent acceptance rate, but KSU Director of Admissions Larry Moeder said Tuesday there must have been a problem with the reporting, because KSU’s rate actually is close to KU’s. That’s because both are required to accept Kansas high school graduates who meet one of three minimum admissions requirements.
KU officials have argued that the in-state admissions requirements aren’t a good measure of a student’s readiness for university work, and statistics in the U.S. News report seem to back that up. The freshman retention rates at KU and K-State, 80 percent and 79 percent respectively, were the lowest in the Big 12. The same was true of graduation rates at 61 percent for KU and 59 percent for K-State. By comparison, Texas had a 45 percent acceptance rate, retained 92 percent of its freshmen and had an 81 percent graduation rate.
In releasing this year’s rankings, U.S. News indicated it had placed more weight on schools’ graduation rates, which may have contributed to KU’s drop in the rankings. The good news is that KU’s new provost, Jeffrey Vitter, said Monday that improved retention and graduation rates already had been identified as important priorities for the school. Vitter also noted that, although KU watches various national ratings, it shouldn’t adjust its overall strategy in an effort to do better in the rankings.
That’s a reasonable attitude, but rankings do count. If KU officials can focus on initiatives that improve both the university and its rankings, they’ll have the best of both worlds.