19 Sep New guide ranks UW-Madison tops in research
Madison, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been named the nation’s top research university in a new college guide that attempts to measure higher education’s contributions to society.
In September, Washington Monthly magazine debuted a college guide that emphasizes outcomes of university work such as public service, promoting social mobility and advancing the economy. “While other guides ask what colleges can do for students, we ask what colleges are doing for the country,” editors wrote in summarizing their approach.
UW-Madison fared well in the publication, coming up first in university research (above the University of Michigan and the University of California-Los Angeles). In the rankings across all categories, UW-Madison was 12th.
UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley says the ranking is “more evidence that we continue to place highly on a variety of different methodologies.” He also noted a ranking this summer by China’s Institute of Higher Education that took on the imposing challenge of naming the world’s best universities. In that ranking of 500 universities, UW-Madison placed 16th overall.
A consistently good showing across different variables means more than a No. 1 ranking in any single area, Wiley adds. He also recommends that people be skeptical of putting too much weight in rankings.
“I don’t believe there is a ‘best university’ any more than I believe there is a ‘best truck,'” Wiley says. “There are different makes and models and styles, and what’s best for me isn’t necessarily best for everyone else. The same is true of universities.”
For research, UW-Madison tends to place the greatest emphasis on the in-depth and rigorous rankings from the National Research Council (NRC). The latest NRC rankings placed 16 UW-Madison doctoral programs in the nation’s top ten.
UW-Madison’s No. 1 research ranking was based on the total number of science and engineering doctorates (445, third overall) and research expenditures ($662 million, fourth overall) in fiscal 2004.
Ben Wallace-Wells, an editor of Washington Monthly, says the magazine emphasized research data that would reflect immediate impact on the economy. For that reason, it placed graduates and expenditures above some other measures of academic productivity, such as total journal citations.
In the overall national rankings, the publication looked at data such as the percentage of students who receive Pell grants, the number of students in Peace Corps and ROTC programs, and the percentage of work-study funds spent on service.
Most college guides focus their criteria on marketing for prospective students, emphasizing the services and experiences students will find. The Washington Monthly guide is more outwardly focused on societal impact, Wallace-Wells says.