USAO Finds New Peers in U.S. News
A quiet change happened in the national rankings this year, a change that could easily go unnoticed since Oklahoma’s usually highest ranked public university has disappeared from its familiar spot on the “Baccalaureate Colleges” list in U.S.News & World Report.
The University of Science and Arts has been moved to the “National Liberal Arts Colleges” category – the only institution in Oklahoma, public or private, to be included on this select, national list. The same list includes Trinity, Amherst, Swarthmore and hundreds of other respected, private liberal arts colleges.
“This is a remarkable step for us,” said USAO President John Feaver. “USAO has long earned the highest marks in Oklahoma for the quality of our time-honored curriculum. For Oklahomans to have available to them an institution like USAO, delivering a nationally recognized liberal arts experience at a fraction of the price of our private counterparts, is a big deal.”
When U.S. News’ Annual College Guide hit newsstands on Tuesday, reporters called USAO asking, “Where’s USAO this year? I can’t find you in the rankings.”
The answer is both the biggest compliment and the toughest challenge ever faced by USAO, said Dr. Dex Marble, vice president for academic affairs. “Being moved to this list acknowledges USAO’s true peers across America in terms of curriculum and high academic standards, but we are in the company of institutions with 20 times more budget and 100 times more endowment. We accept the challenge – with humility.”
Last year’s rankings were announced on NBC’s Today Show, where hosts mentioned USAO between Harvard and Yale. That was USAO’s ninth year in a row to be listed by U.S. News as the highest ranked Oklahoma school in any category.
But this year is different. On the just-released 2012 list, USAO is in the second tier, out of the Top 100 on the “National Liberal Arts Colleges” list. “We have moved, under the Carnegie classifications, to a much tougher category,” explained Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for advancement.
“Even with a new set of peers, our academic reputation score of 55 remains high in this new category, so high, in fact, that we score better than all other schools in our tier but one, and higher than 69 schools in the top tier list,” said Feaver, who served for 12 years on USAO’s faculty, which boasts an impressive 92 percent holding the highest degree in their field.
“Our alumni all over the world will take pride that Oklahoma’s public liberal arts college is being recognized among these peers,” Nealeigh said.
Only 26 public universities in America appear on the list of 236 schools in the “National Liberal Arts Colleges” category. Included are the elite military academies.
Evidence of stiffer competition is that USAO scored in the top 6 percent academically on the previous list, but in the top 48 percent on the new list.
“We are proud to be positioned so well. If we are regarded highly among the prestigious private schools, that explains why we scored so well among the public institutions,” Marble said.
Other positive indicators for USAO include a premium student-to-faculty ratio, which is 15:1, the lowest in Oklahoma.
Besides quality, USAO also earned praise by the magazine for helping students achieve their educational goals with less debt. Only 92 schools across America – in all categories – are included on the “Least Debt” list. USAO is one of the 20 “National Liberal Arts Colleges” whose students graduate with least debt.
"More than 70 percent of our students graduating debt-free,” said Mike Coponiti, vice president for business and finance. “That’s rare in America. It explains why USAO is respected for not only quality but value.”
According to its website, U.S. News & World Report uses a proprietary methodology to judge schools on 16 widely accepted indicators of excellence, designed to help consumers evaluate and compare data compiled from more than 1,378 colleges and universities. Schools are assigned to categories based on a system created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Providing all that data to U.S. News each year is the job of Lynn Boyce, vice president for information services and technology for USAO. She praised the magazine as a solid, independent judge of the data.
“Colleges are ranked based on a transparent system of indicators,” Boyce said. “Colleges who perform well academically and command a reputation for quality do very well.”
For schools in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category, the magazine weighs undergraduate academic reputation at 22.5 percent, graduation and retention rates at 20 percent, faculty resources at 20 percent, student selectivity at 15 percent, financial resources at 10 percent, graduate rate performance at 7.5 percent and alumni giving at 5 percent.
More information about the rankings is available at www.usnews.com. Links are provided at www.usao.edu.