US News ranks USAO among national liberal arts colleges

Named for a second year to the prestigious “National Liberal Arts Colleges” category in U.S.News & World Report, the University of Science and Arts fields much tougher competition, according to USAO officials. This puts USAO in the company of hundreds of nationally respected private liberal arts colleges on the exclusive rankings. The university remains in the top 25 national liberal arts colleges “Least Debt” list.

US News ranks USAO among national liberal arts colleges


For the second year in a row, the University of Science and Arts is the only institution in Oklahoma – public or private – to be ranked on the exclusive “National Liberal Arts Colleges” list in U.S. News’ America’s Best Colleges Guide.

The rankings for 2013 were released by U.S. News on Wednesday and the guide will hit newsstands on Sept. 18.

Other schools on this list include prestigious private institutions like Amherst, Vassar and Bryn Mawr as well as venerated public institutions like the United States Navy and Air Force academies.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized among our true peers nationally,” said USAO President John Feaver. “Only 10 percent of the schools on this list are public colleges, so we are honored. It is a reflection on the hard work and determination of students, faculty, alumni and staff alike who have labored tirelessly to transform this institution into something vital and utterly unique within the Oklahoma higher education system.”

Being ranked among national liberal arts colleges is a great achievement for any Oklahoma institution but it also makes standing out in an aggressive way among the university’s peers more difficult, said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement at USAO.

“We celebrate the achievements of every Oklahoma institution and believe that every Oklahoma success story deserves to be told.”

USAO is ranked in the second tier of its category. The university’s academic reputation index, scored at 53 out of 100, places it in the top 20 percent of Tier II schools.

Only seven public liberal arts universities nationwide, including four military academies, can boast of a higher academic rating.

“Our mission, set out by the state regents, mandates that we provide the public with a distinctive and accessible liberal arts and sciences education,” said Dr. Dex Marble, vice president of academic affairs.

“We, along with our sister schools in the COPLAC organization, confront a special set of challenges in being excellent stewards of the people’s money while maintaining the rigor of our curriculum,” Marble said.

“We bear those difficulties with honor knowing that we serve not only our mission but provide something unique and invaluable to the people of Oklahoma.”

COPLAC is the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, of which USAO has been a member since 2006.

For nine years, USAO held an impressively high ranking on the “Best Regional Colleges” list, holding the number one spot among public colleges in the western United States. With USAO’s move to the national liberal arts colleges list, the competition for distinction increased dramatically.

While USAO’s freshman retention and graduation rates continue to climb, the price of tuition has proven difficult to hold down. Flattened state education budgets and a narrower pool of potential students from which to choose due to heightened admission standards have combined to necessitate tuition increases of more than 7 percent for two years running.

Despite these challenges, USAO remains on the “Least Debt” list for national liberal arts colleges, one of only five public institutions to earn that distinction.

“As education costs have risen nationwide, USAO remains committed to delivering the best possible experience at the best possible price,” said Mike Coponiti, vice-president for business and finance.

“Though we have, by necessity, raised tuition in recent years,” Coponiti said, “the cost of a USAO education is competitive and transparent. Our fees are negligible in comparison to other institutions and have remained unchanged for five years now.”

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 1,391 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.