USAO NAMED NO. 1 IN THE WEST, AMONG BEST DEALS IN AMERICA
CHICKASHA – “Best in the West!” is the celebration cry echoing from campus this week as USAO has been named – for the fifth time -- the No. 1 undergraduate public college in the Western United States by U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges. Again, that makes USAO the highest-ranked public college in Oklahoma in the annual rankings by America’s Best Colleges.
Faculty and staff greeted the news with enthusiasm. USAO is ranked No. 1 again in the western United States, among only 20 public colleges across America on the “Top Public Comprehensive Colleges” list.
In the 2006 edition, which will hit newsstands Aug. 22, USAO rises in the ranks on several lists for academic quality and modest cost.
“Oklahoma has recognized this unique and historic institution for quality and value,” said USAO President John Feaver. “It is extremely gratifying to garner national attention for Oklahoma again. Since the rankings are based on volumes of data provided by more than 1,500 colleges nationwide, it is a distinct honor to reach this mark five times. We have been ranked for the quality of our academic programs since the mid-1990s by the magazine, but this announcement is especially welcome.”
USAO's academic quality rating is 3.3, according to the magazine's formula, Feaver explained. “That puts us among the solid private schools on the list, and is the central reason we keep rising to the top of the public lists. This year, USAO is the highest ranked, public, ‘Comprehensive-Bachelor’s’ school in the nation for academic quality.”
“This will turn heads,” said Dr. Sanders Huguenin, vice president for academic affairs. “No other public university in Oklahoma made the ‘Top Public Colleges’ list in its category.”
This news follows USAO’s announcement this summer of its aggressive “Mission Enhancement Plan” that will raise admission standards each year for the next five years to match the highest standards in Oklahoma. 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 here.
Among the “Comprehensive-Bachelor’s,” schools, the magazine listed 324 colleges divided into four regions: north, south, midwest and west. The Western Region – where USAO is the best-ranked public school and Oklahoma Baptist University holds the No. 2 spot -- encompasses 15 states, including California, Texas, Hawaii and Alaska. Schools on this list focus on undergraduate education.
The most notable change from last year is USAO’s return to a different category: the “Great Schools at Great Prices” list. Only 190 schools in America made the “Great Schools at Great Prices” list. USAO is ranked No. 2 in the West among “Comprehensive-Bachelor’s” colleges, right behind Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
USAO was named to the magazine’s best values list twice before, but slipped from that rank last fall due to three years of budget cuts and faculty losses.
“USAO is one of only nine public institutions in America on the ‘great schools’ list,” Feaver said. “Among all the ‘Comprehensive-Bachelor’s’ colleges on the ‘great schools’ list, USAO is the only public one. Our faculty, students and alumni take great pride in this distinction.”
The ‘Great Schools at Great Prices’ category is based on a combination of academic reputation, top 2-tier ranking and reasonable cost of attendance, said Lynn Boyce, USAO’s chief information officer.
“Here in Oklahoma, we've always known that USAO is an excellent value," she said. "But this ranking from a national publication tells the story to a much greater audience. USAO is the only public school among the top 40 colleges nationwide to be ranked as a 'best value' school."
According to its website, U.S. News uses a formula for its “Great Schools at Great Prices” list that relates a school's academic quality ranking to the net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of financial aid. "The higher the quality of the program and the lower the cost, the better the deal," states its editorial board. "Only schools ranked in the top half of their categories are included, on the premise that the most significant values are among colleges that are above average academically."
Besides quality, USAO also earned praise by the magazine for ethnic diversity and for helping students achieve their educational goals with less debt.
“We’ve climbed a few notches on the least-debt list,” Boyce said. “Only 90 schools across America – in all categories -- were included on the “Least Debt” list. USAO is one of the 20 “Comprehensive-Bachelor’s” 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 39 percent of our students graduated debt-free,” Boyce explained. “Combine those facts with our academic ranking and students find real value here. USAO stands out in Oklahoma higher education.”
With nearly 15 percent of its student population identified as American Indian, USAO ranks in the top 15 colleges in the western United States for ethnic diversity.
Among western colleges, USAO ranked in the top 15 for “Campus Diversity,” chiefly because of its service – now and historically – to American Indians, but also because the college draws from other countries and ethnic groups. Several other Oklahoma schools appeared on the diversity list, including St. Gregory’s University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan College, Oklahoma Christian and Oklahoma Panhandle State.
“We’re proud of a healthy diversity that encourages the best kind of learning environment,” Huguenin said. “USAO welcomes all students to our community of learners.”
“USAO is now celebrating her 97th year,” Feaver said, “one of the oldest public liberal arts colleges in America. Her quality reflects a long legacy of excellence as Oklahoma’s historic women’s college and her distinctive role as the state’s only publicly supported liberal arts college. It was the first higher education institution created by Oklahoma’s first state legislature.
“Today USAO is the only college in Oklahoma to be listed as a national historic district on the National Register of Historic Places,” Feaver continued. “Indeed the Oklahoma College for Women early achieved national distinction for the quality of its academic programs and campus life opportunities. One of only seven state women’s colleges ever created in the U.S. with similar missions, one of only two west of the Mississippi River, these select schools made major contributions to American higher education in defining the priorities and purpose of education for women in this country. No less today, USAO carries on this tradition of providing distinctive services and academic quality.”
What earns a college the right to join the “Best Colleges” list? According to U.S. News, academic reputation is critical. Also considered is a college’s selectivity in accepting freshmen, faculty resources, curriculum rigor, graduation retention rates, alumni giving, graduation rates and financial resources.
In all categories, America’s Best Colleges assesses more than 1,500 schools: all baccalaureate or graduate institutions but no two-year colleges.