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Measures and ranking methods

October 2010  (updated 10-7-10; new highlighted)

NRC released rankings (or "ranges of illustrative rankings") on 9-28-10 within disciplines on

  • Overall quality with two versions, known as
    •  R: regression, implicit, indirect -- Programs are ranked highly if they have features similar to programs viewed by faculty as top-notch. Weights are based on relationships between program characteristics and reputation ratings gathered from a sample of faculty on a sample of programs
    •  S: survey, stated, explicit, direct -- Programs are ranked highly if they are strong in the criteria that scholars say are most important
  • Three dimensions to "spotlight program characteristics not prominent in the overall rankings"
    • Research activity (RA)
    • Student treatment and support (SS)
    • Diversity (D)

The number of programs ranked varies widely by field, from over 200 in psychology (including two programs at CU-Boulder, psychology and cognitive science), over 150 in chemistry and in physics, to under 40 in aerospace engineering and in theatre.  This means that a program ranked 10th in the U.S., say, may be in the top 5% of all programs (if 200 were ranked), or in the top 25% (if 40 were ranked).   Therefore we consistently present both

  • The ranking itself, of a CU-Boulder program -- e.g., 16th to 30th among all programs (NRC always presents ranges of rankings)
  • A short-hand categorization of the ranking -- e.g., top 10, top 25, or top 50 among all programs
  • How the ranking translates to "top X percent among all programs -- e.g., 16th is at the median (the 50th percentile) in a field with 32 programs, but is in the top 10% of all programs in a field with 160.

All rankings are based on characteristics of students, of the program itself, and of faculty.

The Key Measures Used in the Rankings - all (but one) are used in the overall rankings, whereas only the ones specified below are used in the three dimensional rankings (research activity, student support, and diversity)
Measures of Research Activity   Measures of Diversity
  • Publications, 2000-20061 per allocated faculty
  • Average citations per publication (not used for Humanities)
  • Percent faculty2 with grants
  • Honors and awards per allocated faculty
  • Percent core & new faculty non-Asian minority
  • Percent core & new faculty female
  • Percent students non-Asian minority 
  • Percent students female
  • Percent students international
Measures of Student Support and
  Overall Measures (not used in the three dimensional rankings, but included in the overall)
  • Percent of 1st year students with full financial support 
  • Completion rate: Percent of entering students completing in 6 yrs. or less (8 yrs. for humanities)
  • Median time to degree
  • Percent PhDs with definite plans for an academic position
  • Program collects data about post-graduation employment (not used in overall)

  • Average number of PhDs awarded, 2002-2006
  • Percent interdisciplinary faculty (associated faculty as percent of total)
  • Average GRE score for students entering 2004-20063
  • Percent of students with externally-funded fellowships, 2005
  • Student workspace provided(100% vs. less than 100%)
  • Student health insurance provided (yes/no)
  • Student activities offered - number offered from a list of 18
1From ISI for non-humanities; books from faculty curriculum vitae in humanities
2Of core and new faculty responding to the NRC faculty survey
3Verbal for humanities, quantitative for all other disciplines

  • Details on the measures used in the rankings - including information on source and contribution to rankings, issues with measures and issues with use in rankings (added 10-7-10)
  • The CU-Boulder process - how data were submitted to NRC
  • About the Program Questionnaire, including the CU-Boulder program questionnaire mark-up
  • About the Faculty Questionnaire  ||  Section G, with importance ratings of the 21 measures  (added 10-7-10)
  • About the Ratings Questionnaire
  • Institutional questionnaire (PDF) - CU-Boulder institutional questionnaire mark-up


  • Last revision 10/07/10

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