MORGANTOWN – WVU saw its position in the annual US News & World Report Best College rankings fall 18 spots for 2019.
But WVU’s Paul Kreider, vice provost for academic strategies, curriculum and assessment, credits that to a change in US News’ ranking formula, not to any changes at WVU.
In fact, he said, part of US News’ data is 10 years old and doesn’t reflect improvements undertaken in just the past four years.
WVU fell from number 187 in the magazine’s 2018 ranking for national universities to 205 for 2019. It shares that 205th spot with nine other schools. All told, US News ranked 311 universities: Numbers 1 through 226 are listed by rank, the remainder alphabetically.
US News uses six weighted criteria for its rankings: student outcomes (including graduation and retention rates), 35 percent; faculty resources (including class sizes), 20 percent; expert opinions, 20 percent; financial resources, 10 percent; student excellence, 10 percent; alumni giving, 5 percent.
Kreider said US News changed its methodology for considering student retention and completion, and class size, which affects all the larger institutions. For instance, it regards an ideal average class size as 20, while WVU would be looking at 30.
Because of those changes, he said, a lot of the larger, public, Research 1 institutions like WVU lost ground in the ranking.
Fourteen of WVU’s 20 peer institutions also fell, as did all but one of WVU’s Big 12 athletic rivals, he said.
Among the Big 12 schools, the rankings show, University of Texas at Austin rose from 56 to 49, while Oklahoma fell from 97 to 124 and Kansas State fell from 145 to 154. Ohio University in Athens fell from 151 to 171; Ohio State from 54 to 56. Neighboring Pitt fell slightly, from 68 to 70.
Kreider said US News is basing its student retention performance on data from the freshman class of 2008. But WVU has enacted changes since then, some in the last four years.
WVU has increased its average GPA and average SAT/ACT scores, he said. For the last two years, about a quarter of freshman class has been honor students. “We’re seeing our student profile increase significantly, which is going to help with our student retention numbers in the future.”
WVU has also added a dean of completion dedicated to overseeing student success, he said. “We expect us to see us rise back in the rankings unless they continue to change their formula.”
All this doesn’t render the rankings invalid, he said, it just reflects different methodology and criteria, “probably criteria that doesn’t serve the larger research institutions well.”
Looking at individual schools WVU’s undergraduate business program ranked 147th of 503 and WVU’s engineering doctorate program ranked 116th of 206.
That’s typical, Kreider said. Much of that is based on reputation. WVU for example, regularly fills out surveys regarding the reputation of other schools.
WVU sends out the data regarding individual colleges and programs to those schools, he said, and tells them, “Use this information as you see fit to promote your programs.” This year, many of the big institutions that saw their ranking drop may take a similar approach.
US News also has a list of “A+ Schools for B Students.” It says, “If you’re a good student with less-than-stellar test scores or a so-so GPA, these are the schools for you.” There are 103 universities on this alphabetically arranged list, and WVU is one of them.
US News offers the rankings as a resource for students, who can look them up online at usnews.com/best-
Regarding their value for the university , though, one tenured professor told The Dominion Post in an email, “Deans and central administration (provost/president) definitely pay attention. Faculty and department heads not so much.”
Kreider noted that WVU has experienced $40 million worth of budget cuts in the past four years summed up WVU’s approach to the rankings: “We’re working hard to maintain our status and reposition ourselves for the future and ensure that the students that come to WVU are going to be successful. We’re focusing on that.”