Ohio University has fallen drastically in U.S. News & World Report rankings, at an average of three spots per year, since President Roderick McDavis took office in 2004. The Board of Trustees brushed off 2016’s all-time lowest ranking at its meeting last Friday, saying rankings do not account for much of what makes the university a strong institution.
Ranked 146th among national universities, OU is down 12 spots from last year, when it was ranked 135th. Since 2010, OU’s ranking has consistently declined, dropping an average of two spots per year.
In a presentation to the board and community members, Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Stephen Golding analyzed the latest numbers and justified OU’s standing among other universities in the nation and region. Golding said OU’s main priority is competing with the third tier of Ohio public schools, such as the University of Cincinnati, Kent State University and Bowling Green State University.
“Basically people are staying in their lanes, and they’re not really deviating from their lanes,” Golding said, referring to highly-ranked institutions Ohio State University and Miami University. “You get included in a cohort and then it’s where you fit within that cohort that you actually want to pay attention to.”
Golding highlighted the high rankings of individual colleges at OU, including The School of Nursing, College of Business and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He also noted two distinctions that are not factored into rankings: OU is the top producer of Fulbright Award-winning students nationwide and its online graduate program was ranked first in the nation for overall student satisfaction based on a myplan.com survey of over 600 colleges and universities. On the survey’s 2016 ranking of undergraduate colleges, OU is ranked fourth overall.
“The takeaway question is deciding what it is you want to measure and making sure you can evaluate it,” Golding said. “You have to know what you’re looking at and you have to be able to judge or assess if what you’re actually reading is what you want to know.”
Board of Trustees President David Wolfort expressed some concern about the low overall ranking, saying many prospective students and parents use the rankings as a resource when evaluating colleges.
“I think we do great work and I think Ohio University is top in my books, but I am alarmed when we have to answer to these type of rating differentials,” Wolfort said.
Richard Vedder, distinguished professor emeritus of economics, condemned OU’s poor rankings, saying the school does not spend enough money on academics.
“OU has turned its attention away from academic priorities toward other things,” said Vedder, who is partnered with Forbes to lead its annual college rankings. “We spend a smaller percentage of our budget on purely academic things, we put less emphasis on academic excellence.”
Vedder criticized the university’s current enrollment-maximizing model and said it is harming the school’s reputation. He pointed out that while OU often brags about growing enrollment, schools like Miami University and OSU do not do the same because their enrollment has been capped.
He said that while there may be valid reasons behind the school’s commitment to access to education, it is hurting students in the long run.
“There’s a trade-off between maximizing numbers of students… on the one hand, and excellence or reputation on the other hand,” Vedder said. “You can have some of both, but the more you emphasize access, the more you take students of sort of marginal abilities and qualities, the more you’re going to jeopardize the reputation of the school.”
According to McDavis, this year’s freshmen were OU’s third largest class and had a record high school GPA of 3.48. He said he was proud of the record percentage of African American and multicultural students at 5.6 and 14.1 percent, respectively.
McDavis alleged the university is doing well overall when it comes to rankings, and the best measure of success for him is the high amount of applications received each year.
“I don’t think it would be fair for us to say that we can improve across the board in all the rankings because you have to have different achievements in order to do that,” McDavis said. “What is fair to say is that we will, going forward, identify those rankings where we think we have our best effort to improve and then take steps to try to improve the rankings in those particular areas.”
“It’s saying that there is merit in mediocrity — I don’t agree,” Vedder said. “If you are using taxpayer dollars and student dollars, you try to be as good as you can be.”