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CU-Boulder Characterized by The Center for Measuring University Performance

Recent analyses by The Center for Measuring University Performance demonstrate several notable strengths and special characteristics of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  In its 2008 annual report on top American Research Universities, The Center presents data "useful for understanding American research university performance," drawn from public sources.  The data are adjusted as needed to ensure that all data reflect a single campus, not a university system of multiple campuses. 

The Center does not present an overall ranking.  Instead, it compares universities on each of nine measures: total and federal research expenditures, endowment assets, annual giving, national academy members, faculty awards (e.g., NEH fellows, MacArthur, Guggenheim), doctorates granted, post-doctoral appointees, and SAT/ACT range of entering freshmen. Measures are not normalized for number of faculty.  The Center categorizes schools based on the number of times they rank in the top 25, and in the top 50, on each of the nine measures.  Categorizations are presented over all institutions (including medical-only and other specialized institutions) and over all public institutions.

The Center's 2008 report, which was released in mid-2009 and based on 2007 data, includes the following findings:

  • CU-Boulder has four measures in the top 25 for publics nationally, and two more in the top 50.  CU-Boulder thereby places 26th among all publics, 24th among publics excluding medical-only campuses, on the number of The Center measures in the top 25 among publics.
  • Over all universities including both public and private, CU-Boulder has one measure in the top 25 nationally, and three more in the top 50.   
CU-Boulder's ranking among all publics differs considerably from measure to measure, illustrating strengths relative to public peers:
  • 11th on post-docs.  The CU-Boulder ranking is based on an overestimate of the actual post-doc count, but nevertheless represents enormous research activity by individuals outside the regular faculty. See note.*
  • 20-21st on national academy memberships and other faculty awards.  
  • 20th on federal research expenditures -- but 42nd on total research expenditures.  CU-Boulder expenditures from non-federal sources are considerably lower than those for peers.
  • 37th on number of doctorates awarded annually. 
  • 54th on entering-freshmen test scores.
  • 63rd and 73rd on endowment assets and annual giving, respectively. 

Thus, the report clearly indicates that CU-Boulder's strengths lie squarely with the faculty and research activity, especially federally-funded activity.

The Center's report also presents the distribution of each institution's total research expenditures (including non-federal) over broad disciplines.  For CU-Boulder the distribution is 35% environmental science, 25% physical science, 14% engineering science, 12% life science, 6% psychology, 3% in each of computer science and social science, and 1% or less in math and in "other science."  CU-Boulder's distribution of research activity is notable among public AAU universities for its diversification -- a high number and range of disciplines with significant activity -- and for its emphasis on environmental and physical sciences. 

Selected findings include: 

  • Only CU-Boulder expenditures are spread over multiple disciplines such that four disciplines each represent 10% or more of expenditures.
  • Only CU-Boulder, Berkeley, Illinois, Maryland, Texas A&M, and Texas have no discipline representing 40% or more of expenditures.  For most AAU schools with medical activity, over half of their expenditures are in life sciences; for most without medical activity, 40-60% are in either life sciences or engineering (UC Santa Barbara, Penn State). 
  • Only CU-Boulder has 20% or greater of research expenditures in environmental sciences -- CU-Boulder's 35% dedicated to such studies is quite distinctive.
  • Only two AAU publics have 20% or more of research expenditures in the physical sciences: CU-Boulder (25%) and Arizona (28%). 

Also notable in The Center listings is the presence of three Colorado universities among publics with any measures in the top 25 among publics or five or more in the top 50:  CU-Boulder (4 in top 25, 6 in top 50), the CU health sciences center** (1 in top 25, 4 in top 50), and Colorado State (0 in top 25, 5 in top 50).  Only three other states, all with at least double the population of Colorado, placed three or more institutions in this group: California (7), Texas (4), and Pennsylvania (3).   Colorado's standing demonstrates the extraordinary depth and intensity of research activity among the major public research universities in the Colorado Front Range urban corridor.


* CU-Boulder's Institutional Analysis reports all "research associate" titles to NSF as post-docs, but knows (and reports) that not all are post-docs; true post-docs cannot be differentiated given current university appointment and record-keeping practices.  Some peers follow this reporting practice, others do not. The Center makes no attempt to adjust post-doc counts for reporting practices; therefore the Center's post-doc figures for CU-Boulder are overestimates.

** The Center lists "University of Colorado Health Sciences Center" even though in 2007 the "University of Colorado Denver" encompassed both the formerly separate downtown Denver and health sciences campuses. If and how The Center adjusted data for this entity was not investigated.

Last revision 05/04/09

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