University ranked 22nd in U.S.
For the third year in a row, U.S. News and World Report’s annual “America’s Best Graduate Schools” ranked Carnegie Mellon as the 22nd-best national university. This year, however, both graduate business and engineering programs received their highest rankings in almost a decade.
Factors in the ranking process
How did U.S. News assess the Carnegie Mellon experience and spit out a number? According to Robert J. Morse and Samuel Flanigan, authors of “the ranking methodology” on USNews.com, undergraduate rankings are based on many factors both qualitative and quantitative, including peer assessment,
retention rate, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate, and alumni giving rate.
Graduate school rankings are more subjective. While business and engineering rankings are based on expert opinions as well as statistical indicators, programs in sciences, social sciences, and humanities are based solely on the ratings of experts — deans and other faculty in the department judging the academic quality of their own programs on a scale from 1 to 5.
How to use the rankings
Does having the undergraduate and graduate department heads rate their own programs create an unfair bias? “Of course,” said Ignacio Grossmann, former head of the department of chemical engineering and current director of the Center for Advanced Process Decision-Making.
But that is only one of the many biases that result from the ranking process.
“In the past, there has been a bias towards larger schools, which makes it somewhat more difficult for us,” he said.
Deb Magness, executive director of marketing and communications for the Tepper School of Business, agrees.
“[The rankings] present a skewed view of what’s important in your academic experience,” she said. “We live in a society of lists and ranks.” She recommends a “healthy respect that rankings are here to stay,” while cautioning, “Don’t use rankings as a shortcut.”
"There's no such thing as 'one best school,' and rankings do a disservice to students by putting such an emphasis on that misconception," Magness said.
Even U.S. News is aware of the confusion that its rankings can incite.
“We want to help you with the [program selection] process by giving you an independent assessment of the academic quality of the programs in your field,” USNews.com states. However, the website also
maintains that “the rankings can inform your thinking — but they won’t hand you an easy answer.”
How did Carnegie Mellon rank?
According to U.S. News, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business is ranked in 16th place overall on the graduate level, its highest since it was ranked 15th in 1998.
In U.S. News’s 2006 edition of “America’s Best Colleges,” Tepper ranked fifth on the undergraduate level, its highest score since 2001, when it received another fifth-place ranking. However, the school was ranked second overall by The Wall Street Journal’s 2005 business school rankings, which are based on the views of corporate recruiters.
“Recruiters say that Tepper graduates have the ability to hit the ground running, and other students take longer to orient themselves in the workplace,” Magness said. “We are a top-10 school when it comes to starting salary and job placement.”
She cites teamwork, analytical, and decision-making skills as attributes of Tepper grads that particularly stand out to recruiters. She credits the acquisition of these skills to the small size of the school and favorable faculty-to-student ratio.
However, the U.S. News rankings, based more on teaching and student satisfaction, can make Tepper appear to come up short on the academic side. Magness disagrees.
“Our academic experience is in ways unparalleled and competitive,” Magness said. In fact, she attributes Tepper’s four-spot climb in the BusinessWeek 2004 rankings to the significant rise in student satisfaction. The magazine named Tepper as one of the “most improved schools” in 2005.
Engineering has seen the most significant progress in the rankings, currently ranking eighth on the graduate level. This is its highest ranking since 1998, when it was ranked fourth.
Last year, undergraduate engineering also ranked eighth, for the fourth year in a row.
Grossmann attributed the success to the department’s balance of research and teaching. “I think that while we’re regarded as a strong research department, we place an emphasis on education,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to teach and [to] teach well.”
While professors have to juggle research and teaching, it is the research that often motivates their students. This factor, Grossmann believes, gives Carnegie Mellon a comparative advantage over competing teaching universities in the engineering field that lack the research component.
As it has fairly consistently for the past 15 years, Carnegie Mellon’s graduate program in computer science ranked first overall in the nation. U.S. News cited its particularly strong specialties as artificial intelligence, programming languages, and systems, all of which ranked in the top three.
Research is a component in the humanities, too.
“Our professors travel internationally, doing research and getting the [Carnegie Mellon] name out there,” said Erin Donahoe, the graduate programs coordinator for the psychology department, which was ranked ninth overall on the graduate level.
She cites the other factors in Carnegie Mellon’s competitiveness as the substantial federal grants the department receives, allowing the school to offer its students free tuition as well as a living stipend, and the small size of its department — the psychology program only accepts eight to 10 students per year.
The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Carnegie Mellon is ranked 10th in the nation.
In addition, its graduate programs in graphic design, industrial design, and multimedia/visual communication placed sixth, third, and second, respectively.
These rankings are consistent with the 2004 rankings in this category. Drama was not ranked this year, according to Theresa Thomas, Carnegie Mellon’s assistant vice-president for media relations.
Academics are not the only aspect of universities across the country that news magazines rank.
While Carnegie Mellon ranked ninth in economic diversity, it ranked 35th in financial aid: Last year, less than half of its students who needed grants received them.
In addition, while the school was seventh in international diversity, with 12 percent of the student body being international students, it did not even make the list of racially diverse schools. The admissions office did not comment on these matters.