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CU-Boulder Summary Statement

September 28, 2010

Twenty CU-Boulder Doctoral Programs in Top 20 or Top 20 Percent in NRC Study

A number of CU-Boulder's doctoral education programs, including those in Geography, Aerospace Engineering Sciences, Integrative Physiology, and Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, were highly rated in a report released on September 28, 2010 by the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine and carries out most of the studies done in their names. These long-awaited findings from the NRC's national study of doctoral programs at more than 200 universities are based on a more comprehensive assessment of doctoral programs than popular ranking systems currently available can offer.

The data-based assessment of research-doctorate programs in the United States reported comparative data on more than 5,000 PhD programs in 59 fields or disciplines. The 33 CU-Boulder programs in the study were assessed in 32 fields or disciplines, such as history, mechanical engineering, and physics. Programs in business and education were not included in the study, nor were programs of relatively small size.

NRC reported what it calls "illustrative" ranges of rankings on overall program quality and on three dimensions of doctoral education -- research activity, student support and outcomes, and gender and ethnic diversity of the academic environment. The NRC approach takes into account many factors. The rankings are based on 20 indicators ranging from number of students in 2005, to faculty publications from 2001-2006, to graduation rates, to faculty honors and awards, combined using a lengthy and complex statistical analysis process. Each program was compared to others in its field. The number of programs in fields assessed at CU-Boulder ranged from 27 (in theatre) to 236 (in psychology). As stated in the NRC report, these illustrative rankings “are neither endorsed nor recommended by the National Research Council as an authoritative conclusion about the relative quality of doctoral programs.” Rather, they are meant to serve as examples of ways that the data may be used to assess and compare various characteristics of doctoral programs.

Two CU-Boulder programs received overall rankings as high as 2nd in their fields. These were Geography (ranked in the top 4 percent of 49 programs) and Aerospace Engineering Sciences (in the top 6 percent of 31 programs). Other Geography programs ranked at this level include those at UCLA, UC-Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Other Aerospace Engineering Sciences programs ranked at this level include those at Stanford, MIT, and the California Institute of Technology.

Two other CU-Boulder programs -- Integrative Physiology and Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences -- received overall rankings as high as 4th in their fields. Other programs ranked in the top five or top five percent were Psychology, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Physics.

Nearly two thirds, or 20 of the 33 CU-Boulder programs in the study, received overall rankings as high as the top 20 or the top 20 percent in their field. CU-Boulder had eight programs in the top 5 or top 5 percent, six programs in the top ten or top10 percent, and six programs in the top 20 or top 20 percent. These 20 programs span every NRC broad field represented at CU-Boulder -- life and physical sciences, humanities, engineering, and social sciences.

CU-Boulder programs with overall rankings as high as the top 20 or top 20% in their field (N = 20 total)

Program

Best overall rank

Best overall percentile rank

N programs ranked in field

Programs ranked as high as the top 5 or top 5% in their field (N=8)

 

Geography

2

4%

49

Aerospace Engineering Sciences

2

6%

31

Integrative Physiology

4

6%

63

Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences

4

12%

34

Psychology

6

3%

236

Mechanical Engineering

6

5%

127

Civil Engineering

7

5%

130

Physics

8

5%

160

Programs ranked as high as the top 10 or top 10% in their field (N=6)

 

Applied Mathematics

6

18%

33

Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

7

14%

50

Chemical Engineering

8

8%

106

Spanish

8

13%

60

Chemistry and Biochemistry (rank in field Chemistry)

12

7%

178

Geology

13

9%

140

Programs ranked as high as the top 20 or top 20% in their field (N=6)

 

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

11

12%

94

Theatre

12

44%

27

Linguistics

13

25%

52

Neuroscience (joint PhD program)

15

16%

94

Philosophy

15

17%

90

Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (ranked in field Cell and Developmental Biology)

21

17%

122

The 20 programs with overall rankings as high as the top 20 or top 20 percent also received high rankings on the three additional measures -- research activity, student support and outcomes, and diversity of the academic environment. Nine more CU-Boulder programs received rankings as high as the top 20 on one or more of these three measures: Six in student support and outcomes (Cognitive Science, French, Comparative Literature, Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science), three in research activity (Anthropology, French, and Communication), and one, English, in diversity of the academic environment. These findings reinforce NRC's contention that there are many useful ways to combine the indicators to yield rankings.

John Stevenson, CU-Boulder's interim Dean of the Graduate School, commented that "The NRC report confirms our strong conviction that we have many doctoral programs that are among the best in the nation. I am especially gratified to see that our excellence across the disciplines is reflected in the report. Because the report contains such a wealth of data about programs nationwide, it provides us with an opportunity to look in depth at how we provide doctoral education and make our programs even better. The NRC report thus gives us a terrific springboard for fulfilling one of the primary goals of Flagship 2030 -- to further improve graduate education at the University of Colorado, Boulder."

The CU-Boulder Graduate School, departments, and programs will carefully review the data and report issued by NRC to determine how they can be used in our ongoing efforts to enhance doctoral education.

The last NRC assessment of doctoral programs was released in September 1995. The methods used to calculate rankings in that earlier study were significantly different from and not comparable to those used in the 2010 study. In the 1995 assessment, five CU-Boulder programs were ranked in the top 20 or top 20% in their fields.

More information about the NRC report and study may be found at the organization's website: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/Resdoc/index.htm. More detailed information about CU-Boulder's rankings and its participation in the study may be found at http://www.colorado.edu/pba/nrc/, which will be augmented in the coming weeks.

CONTACTS:

Malinda Miller-Huey, University Communications, 303-492-3115, millerm@Colorado.EDU

John Stevenson, Dean of the Graduate School (interim), 303-492-2890, john.stevenson@Colorado.EDU

Lou McClelland, Director of Institutional Analysis, Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis, and campus Institutional Coordinator for the NRC study. 303-492-6730, Lou.McClelland@Colorado.EDU

 

Last revision 09/27/10


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