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Does Ohio U really have the fourth worst professors in the nation?

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The Princeton Review said Ohio U professors receive “low marks.” What does that mean, and is it even true? 

The professors at Ohio University get the fourth lowest marks in the country. Or, at least, that’s what The Princeton Review would lead you to believe.

In the 2018 edition of the quintessential college rankings guidebook, Ohio U was listed as #4 in “Professors Get Low Marks,” #8 in “Least Accessible Professors” and #11 in “Financial Aid Not So Great.” It did not place on the top 20 party schools list, where Tulane University currently reigns at #1.

“I was shocked,” Faculty Senate Chair and English Associate Professor Joseph McLaughlin said.

“The problem that they’re identifying is certainly one that I think a lot of people who are concerned about academic quality are keenly aware of and watching and trying to be vigilant about. But, there’s no way we’re in the top ten in the country in terms of poor performance in that area.”

The Princeton Review compiles its top 20 rankings over the course of each calendar year, Editor-in-Chief Robert Franek says.

The process starts with an 84-question online survey that gets taken by about 350 students at each of 382 different colleges and universities. Students choose whether they agree or disagree strongly with statements on a five-point scale.

Princeton Review Rankings 2017
Graphic by Kat Tenbarge.

For example, responses to the statement “Professors are interesting and bring their material to life” were quantified to determine that Ohio U’s faculty are the fourth worst.

“There are going to be students who are at either one end of the spectrum, incredibly happy, or incredibly disgruntled,” Franek said.

“It’s that great middle that we focus on, so it’s that mean of students that are saying, ‘I can be happy and I can also be critical of my experience at the same time.’ And likely, that is going to be the typical experience for most students.”

He noted that The Princeton Review has an 88 percent approval rating from students who find their school’s portrayal to be “on target” or “right on target.”

McLaughlin points to data from the National Survey of Student Engagement to counter that theory, at least in Ohio U’s case. Out of 498 Ohio U seniors that were surveyed in 2014, 74 percent answered that their instructors taught course sessions in an organized way “Quite a bit” or “Very much.”

That’s right on par with peer institutions, versus the drastically lower marks that The Princeton Review would insinuate.

That being said, Franek stresses that his publication only ranks the top 14 or 15 percent of four-year colleges in the country, and that he holds Ohio U in “high regard.”

“If you can have a substantive exchange with your admissions counselor or financial aid counselor or a student when you’re on campus, because of that ranking, that to me is now creating a very savvy college shopper,” Franek said.

“But I would never want a student to cross a school off their list of consideration because of one or two ranking lists that they think are poor.”

In response to The Princeton Review rankings, Ohio U’s Senior Director of Communication Services Carly Leatherwood noted that the university’s student to faculty ratio was 18 to 1 during the 2015-16 school year. That’s on par with most four-year public colleges and universities.

“We have many strengths here at Ohio University, but our signature strength is the dedication of our extraordinary, student-centered faculty,” Interim Executive Vice President and Provost David Descutner wrote in an email.

“Faculty in every unit on campus care deeply and work diligently to ensure that students have abundant opportunities to realize their scholarly and civic promise.”

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