USAO Ranked No. 1 On U.S. News’ Best Values List
CHICKASHA – Moving to the top of the exclusive “Great Schools, Great Prices” list in U.S.News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges guide, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma takes the No. 1 spot among all baccalaureate colleges in the western United States ranked for both academic quality and reasonable cost.
Under its ambitious Mission Enhancement Plan, USAO has aggressively raised academic standards while keeping costs much lower than national competitors. For the seventh year in a row, USAO remains the highest-ranked public college in Oklahoma in the annual rankings by America’s Best Colleges. The 2008 edition is scheduled to hit newsstands on Friday.
This year, USAO also moves up to the second tier among the top undergraduate colleges in America on the magazine’s “Baccalaureate Colleges” list, previously called the “Comprehensive-Bachelor’s” category.
For five years in a row, USAO was ranked No. 1 in the western United States among the few public colleges across America on that list, but this year the magazine added the generously funded military academies to this category, and they swept the top spots.
“We climbed on the list despite stiffer competition,” said Dr. Sanders Huguenin, vice president for academic affairs. “U.S. News compares schools to similar institutions. This year we were a little concerned that for the first time U.S. News is ranking national service academies and specialty technical colleges, adding them to the same list as the baccalaureate schools. Despite their huge per-pupil spending, we still managed to rise into the second tier. We feel we’re within striking distance of becoming a first-tier school in the baccalaureate category. This has been an explicit goal of our Mission Enhancement Plan, and we will achieve it.”
Academic reputation is a key factor, USAO President John Feaver said Thursday after the magazine’s announcement. “USAO's academic quality rating is 3.4, according to the magazine's formula. That puts us among the solid private schools on the list, and is the central reason we do well among all public schools.
“Of the 320 baccalaureate colleges listed, USAO is ranked in the top 7.2 percent academically,” Feaver said. “Only 4.4 percent have a higher academic ranking.”
Add small class sizes, low student-teacher ratios and affordability, and that pushes USAO’s ranking higher.
“In the ‘Great Schools, Great Prices’ list, 190 colleges and universities are included nationally,” Feaver said. “USAO appears as the top ranked college in the western United States. USAO is one of only 13 public institutions included on that list. Of the 40 baccalaureate colleges listed, USAO is the only public school. Our faculty, students and alumni take great pride in this recognition.
“This distinctive list is based on the ‘best value’ as it relates to a school’s academic quality,” Feaver continued. “The higher the quality of the program and the lower the cost, the better the deal. USAO was the only public college in Oklahoma listed as a ‘best value.’”
Besides quality, USAO also earned praise by the magazine for helping students achieve their educational goals with less debt. Only 90 schools across America – in all categories – are included on the “Least Debt” list. USAO is one of the 20 “Baccalaureate” colleges nationally whose students graduate with least debt. Further, USAO is listed as one of the top five in the western United States.
"We ranked in the top five in the west for students graduating with the least debt and 31 percent of our students graduated debt-free,” said Mike Coponiti, vice president for business and finance. “Combine those facts with our academic ranking and students find solid value here; USAO stands out in Oklahoma higher education.”
Greater statewide and national visibility is a key component in USAO’s Mission Enhancement Plan (MEP), launched in 2005. Endorsed by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the 10-year strategic map for advancement will continue to raise the bar for academics, campus life and development.
“The MEP is our plan to raise internal standards by increasing faculty numbers, making our wage structure more nationally competitive, and placing greater emphasis on faculty-guided undergraduate research and service learning,” Feaver said. “As part of this plan, we’re also in the midst of dramatically raising our admission standards. All Oklahoma state institutions determine admissibility on three criteria. Two of these take into account class rank and GPA. One allows instant access based solely on a minimum ACT score. For the state’s research universities, this minimum ACT is 24. For all other state universities it is 20. For USAO it is 23 for fall 2008. We’re raising all three admissions criteria and by fall 2010 all of them will be equal to those of the two research universities.”
What earns a college the right to join the “Best Colleges” list? According to U.S. News, the key factors are academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, selectivity in accepting freshmen, alumni giving and financial resources.
According to its website, U.S.News & World Report uses a proprietary methodology to judge schools on 15 widely accepted indicators of excellence, designed to help consumers evaluate and compare data compiled from more than 1,400 accredited four-year schools. Universities are assigned to categories based on a system created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.