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SMG, ENG Standouts in 2008 College Rankings

BU places 57th overall, receives high marks for full-time faculty

U.S. News & World Report ranked Boston University 57th in the nation overall. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Boston University made the grade for its undergraduate business, engineering, and study-abroad programs in U.S. News & World Report’s 2008 edition of “America’s Best Colleges,” scoring high in the overall evaluation on percentage of full-time faculty and freshman retention and graduation rates.

In the national rankings, BU’s most impressive showing was in the full-time faculty rankings, with a report of 86 percent — a percentage  equal to or better than that of two top-10 schools, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago. Overall, the University was ranked 57th among the country’s best national universities, a rating BU shared last year with Ohio State University and the University of Pittsburgh.

“College rankings such as those issued by U.S. News, for all their faults, have an impact,” says BU President Robert A. Brown, “and we therefore need to pay a reasonable amount of attention to them. I’m pleased that BU has generally strong showings in this and other rankings, but I also feel we can move higher in them. Most ranking systems give considerable weight to peer assessments. The strategic plan that we unveiled last spring will guide changes to the University that could significantly improve our position in most rankings as our colleagues around the country become aware of the quality of faculty, programs, and students and the improvements we are planning. We don’t undertake this work for the sake of rankings, of course, but as the quality of the University improves, so too should our standing.”

U.S. News & World Report ranked the School of Management 38th among undergraduate programs, based on a peer survey of deans and senior faculty at accredited business programs. While that ranking is down one spot from last fall’s report, the news reflects SMG’s continued success and stability in various ranking systems. In 2006, Business Week placed the school 15th among U.S. business schools in academic quality and 30th overall, and the Financial Times ranked SMG first in the United States and fifth in the world in terms of career progress. Louis Lataif (SMG’61, Hon.’90), Allen Questrom Professor and Dean, has attributed the program’s success to curricular innovations that “teach business students to think systemically, as well as functionally, about business problems and issues.”

The College of Engineering earned the 57th-place spot among undergraduate programs at colleges offering doctoral degrees. Earlier this year, ENG was ranked 41st among graduate programs in the U.S. News edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools: 2008,” and the biomedical engineering program was rated 6th in the country.

The University also scored a 3.4 out of 5 on the peer assessment rating, which asks college presidents, deans, and provosts from around the country to weigh in on a school’s academic programs; more than 2,000 respondents gave ratings for this edition. The rankings also reported a 90 percent freshman retention rate and an 81 percent 2006 graduation rate, placing BU on a par with higher-ranked schools. It was also one of 24 colleges and universities recognized for exceptional study-abroad programs, emphasizing both rigorous academics and significant cultural experiences.

The U.S. News rankings for undergraduate programs are based on a combination of opinion about perceived quality of programs and selected statistical benchmarks that attempt to measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research, and students. Peer assessment is the most heavily weighed factor, but other areas — such as alumni giving rates, where BU reported just 7 percent — are also part of the overall ranking.

But criticism of the magazine’s rankings has been building for years. College administrators say that they are subjective, misleading, and far too influential. Scores of college presidents have joined a campaign urging their colleagues to stop using the rankings in promotional materials and to refuse to fill out the peer assessment portion.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.