When it comes to college rankings, it feels good to be at the top. TU rose to No. 75 in the 2012 U.S. News & World Report’s list of top national universities but has declined six of the eight years since (2017 stayed even). In the 2020 rankings released Monday, TU sits at No. 121, and I want to offer a few thoughts concerning the way we view and interpret rankings.
U.S. News uses a methodology that considers a mix of factors and recently changed the formula to weigh student outcomes more significantly than the academic quality of the incoming class. Today, outcomes account for 35% of the U.S. News calculation, including retention and graduation rates, especially for those undergraduates who receive Pell grants. The standings are based on data that’s gathered over six-year cohorts; some of the data that affect our 2020 ranking are based on students who entered TU as far back as 2009.
When I took over as president in November 2016, we recognized these declines in rankings and realistic expectations for the future. I worked with Provost Janet Levit, who then was vice president of strategic initiatives, as well as faculty, staff, students and alumni to develop a five-year strategic plan to address the deficiencies and return TU to a position of strength through a clear focus on student success. The steps we have taken since launching the strategic plan in 2017 — establishing a multidisciplinary student success committee in 2017, conducting program assessments in 2018, and then realigning resources and launching a Center for Student Success in 2019 — lay the groundwork to once again climb in the rankings.
This is not only true for U.S. News but other influential rankings such as Times Higher Education, which in recent years had named TU one of the world’s top 20 small universities. While we remain the top-rated university in Oklahoma, there is much work to do.
One shining star in this year’s U.S. News rankings is TU’s rise from No. 114 to No. 57 among best value universities. This good news is based on the average amount students and their families actually paid after receiving scholarships or grants based on financial need in the 2018-19 academic year. We should be proud that we are making a high-quality private education more accessible and affordable to students from all backgrounds.
Please bear in mind that our ultimate goal is not to secure better rankings. Our goal is, most of all, to do the right thing for our students. While we cannot control the actions and resulting data from a decade ago, we can control what the TU student experience looks like today. If we concentrate on this goal, the numbers will follow.
I am confident that we have the plan, the leadership, the faculty, the staff and the supporting team in place to achieve remarkable heights. I ask each of you to reaffirm, every day, your commitment to our students and the entire TU family. I invite you to keep the lines of communication open, seek solutions and find innovative ideas through which we all can move forward.