Iowa remains one of the top 40 public universities in the country

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Monday, September 10, 2018

The University of Iowa is ranked 38th in the latest rankings of the nation’s best public universities published by U.S. News & World Report.

The 2019 U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings, released Monday, Sept. 10, place the UI in a tie with Indiana University Bloomington, the University of Delaware, and SUNY University at Buffalo. Iowa’s ranking is down seven spots from last year’s 31, and UI President J. Bruce Harreld says the decrease is a predictable result of the generational disinvestment in public higher education.

“Resources do matter, and without adequate resources from the state, we aren’t able to make the needed investments in student outcomes that would lead to higher rankings by U.S. News & World Report and other ranking organizations,” says Harreld, pointing out that the university currently receives a lower appropriation from the state than it did in 1998. “Without increased commitment from our state government partners and increased tuition, it will be increasingly difficult to make the kinds of investments needed to improve student outcomes.”

U.S. News & World Report ranks universities on a variety of indicators of academic quality in the following categories: student outcomes such as rates of graduation and retention, assessment by academic peers and high school counselors, faculty resources, overall financial resources, ACT/SAT scores, high school class standing, and alumni giving.

Only the University of Michigan and UCLA rank higher than the UI among its 10-university peer group in the category of faculty resources, which is based on class sizes and faculty salaries. According to U.S. News & World Report, research shows that the more access students have to quality instructors, the more engaged they are in class and likely to graduate. The UI has focused recently on improving faculty salaries, but declining state funding has meant the university is failing to keep up with its peers on student success programs.

“Making student outcomes our spending priority is exactly the right thing to do, and illustrates the fiscal discipline at the university,” says Sue Curry, interim provost.

The UI lost ground in the rankings within the student outcomes metric even though the university improved its graduation rate by two points and maintained its first-year retention rate. While both of these outcomes are above the national average, Harreld says they are not improving as quickly as at other schools.

However, Harreld says the UI’s weaknesses in the rankings are in those areas where resources are directed toward holistic student success rather than specific metrics; the UI is the third-lowest university within its peer group in the student success category. While the university’s strategic plan would increase resources aimed at improving student success, declining funding means those plans cannot be fully implemented.

“Make no mistake: Iowa is still an outstanding university, among the top 40 public universities in the country,” says Harreld. “But we are increasingly at risk of becoming an average university, and if performing at the national average is all that we aspire to, then the efforts made by those who came before us will have been made in vain. At Iowa, we are and should be driven to compete with the best.”

Yet, Harreld points out, despite the ongoing public disinvestment in the university, U.S. News & World Report recognizes that the UI is still providing a top-notch education to its students by ranking it at 88 among all public and private universities on the magazine’s list of Best Value Schools.

The U.S. News rankings are based on reputational data obtained from questionnaires filled out by administrators at more than 1,300 colleges and universities, as well as from objective data submitted to a national data archive. More information on the methodology is available on the U.S. News & World Report site.

The U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges 2019” rankings can be found on the magazine’s website.