College rankings are out: which is better, UO or OSU?

The Wall Street Journal published its much-awaited 2021 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) College Rankings today.

So which is superior, the University of Oregon or Oregon State University?

The UO finished 225th and OSU finished 318th among nearly 800 U.S. colleges and universities examined in the WSJ/THE rankings. 

So now what do you know? Not much.

The fact is that if you depend on national college ranking programs in picking a school, it’s a crapshoot. That’s because each ranking system uses its own unique methodology in evaluating schools and assigns different percentages to ranking elements, leading to wildly different conclusions. 

The U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2021 methodology, for example, places UO at #103 and OSU at #153 among national universities in the United States. National universities are schools that offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master’s and doctoral programs, and are committed to producing groundbreaking research. Washington Monthly’s annual College Guide and Rankings places UO at #118 and OSU at #159 among national universities. 

Key indicators in the WSJ/THE rankings are based on 15 factors across four main categories: Forty percent of each school’s overall score comes from student outcomes, including graduates’ salaries and debt; 30% comes from academic resources, including how much the college spends on teaching; 20% from student engagement, including whether students feel prepared to use their education in the real world, and 10% from the learning environment, including the diversity of the student body and academic staff.

Some ranking systems focus on the quality of incoming students at a university, examining standardized-test scores and how students ranked in their high-school class. Some also give significant weight to outside opinion, conducting surveys of university administrators to find out if they think competing colleges are doing a good job. The WSJ/THE College Rankings take a different approach, emphasizing the return on investment students see after they graduate. Schools that fare the best on this list have graduates who generally are satisfied with their educational experience and land relatively high-paying jobs that can help them pay down student loans.

That leads to the top-rated schools in the WSJ/THE College Rankings being those with a lot of money. “Metrics used around academic resources, graduate student debt, the diversity of the faculty and the salary of graduates certainly favor institutions with large endowments,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Looking at one common rating category, Social Mobility, illustrates the wide variability in each ranking system and shows how ratings can be influenced. 

In the U.S. News & World Report rankings, social mobility counts for 5% of the final figure. The indicator measures only how well schools graduated students who received federal Pell Grants. Students receiving these grants typically come from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, though most Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. 

The social mobility ranking is computed by aggregating the two ranking factors assessing graduation rates of Pell-awarded students:

  • Pell Grant graduation rates incorporate six-year graduation rates of Pell Grant students, adjusted to give much more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions. This is computed as a two-year rolling average.
  • Pell Grant graduation rate performance compares each school’s six-year graduation rate among Pell recipients with its six-year graduation rate among non-Pell recipients by dividing the former into the latter, then adjusting to give much more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions. The higher a school’s Pell graduation rate relative to its non-Pell graduation rate up to the rates being equal, the better it scores. This, too, is computed as a two-year rolling average. 

Compare this with the complexity of how the Washington Monthly deals with social mobility in its rating system.

The social mobility portion of the national rankings by Washington Monthly considers a college’s graduation rate over eight years for all students, a predicted graduation based on the percentage of Pell recipients and first-generation students, the percentage of students receiving student loans, the admit rate, the racial/ethnic and gender makeup of the student body, the number of students (overall and full-time), and whether a college is primarily residential. 

The actual eight-year graduation rate accounts for 8.33 percent of the social mobility score, and the difference between the predicted versus the actual graduation rate counts for another 8.33 percent. The raw number of Pell recipients earning bachelor’s degrees counts for 5.56 percent of the social mobility score. This is designed to reward colleges that successfully serve large numbers of students from lower-income families. 

To gauge a college’s commitment to educating a diverse group of students, Washington Monthly measured the percentage of students at each institution receiving Pell Grants and the percentage of first-generation students at each school. It also measured affordability for first-time, full-time, in-state students with family incomes below $75,000 per year, student loan repayments, median earnings of graduates and dropouts, 

Washington Monthly also determines a community service score that takes into account the size of each college’s Air Force, Army, and Navy ROTC programs as well as the number of alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps. 

Finally, Washington Monthly measures voting engagement using data from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts University and the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. Colleges can earn up to six points for fulfilling each of six criteria. They could receive up to two points for publishing with ALL IN their data from NSLVE’s report on student voting behavior in 2016 or 2018 (one point for each year). 

They could receive up to two points for creating an action plan to improve democratic engagement through the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge in 2018 or 2020 (one point for each year). A college could earn one point for having a student voter registration rate above 85 percent and making their registration rate available through ALL IN. Colleges could also earn one point for being currently enrolled in NSLVE.

Good grief!

There may be nuggets of valuable information about colleges and universities within the ranking programs. But in slicing and dicing academia into sellable tiers, the ranking sites are principally the marketing branch of the higher education conglomerate, a way to assemble and peddle the publishers themselves and the schools they cover.

So don’t decide between the UO and OSU on the basis of their rankings on any of the programs out there. Be open minded. Be flexible. Be excited.

As Steve Jobs said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinion drown your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” 

Are Lebanon and OSU Bedfellows?

As Lebanon goes, so goes Oregon State University.

The Lebanese government banned the movie “Wonder Woman” because the star of the film, Gal Gadot, served as an Israeli soldier.

Now OSU is considering changing the name of its Arnold Dining Center, named after the school’s second president, Benjamin Arnold, because Arnold was an enlisted member in the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee.

benjaminleearnold

Benjamin Arnold

An estimated 750,000 to 1,000,000 soldiers fought in the confederate army during the civil war. The Soldiers and Sailors Database, maintained by the National Park Service, contains information about the men who served in the Confederate (and Union) armies during the Civil War.

Is OSU going to set the precedent that every one of those Confederate soldiers is banned from any honor 152 years after the war ended?

What’s the next step?

In June 1900, in a spirit of national reconciliation, the U.S. Congress authorized setting aside a section of Arlington National Cemetery for the burial of Confederate dead. On June 4, 1914, a Confederate Memorial was dedicated at the cemetery, with President Woodrow Wilson making the principal address before a crowd including thousands of former Union and Confederate soldiers.

confederatememorial

Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

Is the next step going to be demands that the Confederate Memorial be torn down and the Confederate soldiers disinterred?

Whatever happened to that spirit of reconciliation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In June 1900, in this spirit of national reconciliation, the U.S. Congress authorized that a section of Arlington National Cemetery be set aside for the burial of Confederate dead.

By the end of 1901 all the Confederate soldiers buried in the national cemeteries at Alexandria, Virginia, and at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington were brought together with the soldiers buried at Arlington and reinterred in the Confederate section.

Memo to OSU: Forget about “Social justice training”

Oregon State University is jumping on the “social justice” bandwagon with a requirement that new students take online “social justice training” beginning in the fall of this year.

osu-weatherford-hall.wiki_

The Student Social Justice Education Development Team is being led by Dr. Jennifer Dennis, Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School.

 

The training, to be developed by a 12-person Student Social Justice Education Development Team, will consist of five online modules “…on issues of inclusion, equity and social justices.”

Similar to diversity programs initiated at schools across the country in response to campus unrest, OSU’s program will address topics such as:

  • The importance of diversity and inclusivity at OSU
  • The need to understand that systemic and local inequities exist and that everybody plays a role in creating an OSU community that resists and corrects injustice
  • How to identify bias incidents and how to interrupt bias in students’ daily lives.

Students are being encouraged to send their feedback to Dr. Dennis at jennifer.dennis@oregonstate.edu

Sounds very with the times, very sensitive and progressive, right?

The problem is all this feel-good diversity/inclusivity training stuff doesn’t work, and may even be counterproductive.

That’s the conclusion reached by social psychologists Dr. Jonathan Haidt at NYU, who studies the psychology of morality, and Lee Jussim at Rutgers University, who studies the causes and consequences of prejudice and stereotypes.

“…the existing research literature suggests that such reforms will fail to achieve their stated aims of reducing discrimination and inequality,” Haidt and Jussim wrote recently. “In fact, we think that they are likely to damage race relations and to make campus life more uncomfortable for everyone, particularly black students. “

What is much more effective is providing an environment in which people of different races “…share some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team.” This was documented in a study by Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues. A reduction in the “us vs. them” psychology can occur quickly when team-members have a common objective that fosters cooperation. This is well documented in the military, where the focus is on teamwork.

“When groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to dissolve enmity and create a mind-set of “one for all, all for one,” the professors wrote.

A review of more than 500 studies on interracial contact by Thomas F. Pettigrew and Linda R. Tropp found that mixing people of different races and ethnicities so they get to know one another reduces prejudice more than enforced diversity training.

On the other side, allowing or facilitating the grouping of college students by race undermines the promotion of inclusivity. The creation of “ethnic enclaves” such as race-based residence halls or student centers, in response to campus racial unrest, is an example.

A study led by Dr. James  Sidanius, now at Harvard, that tracked incoming UCLA students over their four years at the school looked at how joining an organization based on ethnic identity changed students’ attitudes. For black, Asian and Latino students, “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity,” the study concluded.

“…if the goal of expanding such programs is to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus, the best current research suggests that the effort will backfire,” the study said.

The fact is the effectiveness of much-vaunted programs such as OSU’s have never been rigorously evaluated and the studies that have been done aren’t positive, according to Haidt and Jussim. If anything, research suggests the programs “often induce ironic negative effects (such as reactance or backlash) by implying that participants are at fault for current diversity challenges.”

Before OSU digs an even deeper hole in this effort to spur social justice, it would be wise to step back and evaluate whether it is headed in exactly the wrong direction.

 

 

 

In responsione: OSU and state support for higher education

After I wrote about Oregon’s abandonment of higher education, focusing on the situation at the University of Oregon, Steve Clark, Vice President for University Relations at OSU, responded to me with some informative comments.

Steve Clark, Oregon State University

Steve Clark, Oregon State University

Mr. Clark agreed to let me share them:

Like you, at Oregon State, we worry about the cost of higher education for Oregonians. I would like to share with you a number of steps we have taken to minimize the impacts of this change in state funding, but we do realize that there is more work to do in this regard. And while our efforts are many and have had a positive impact, we continue to urge Oregon legislators to restore higher education funding at least to levels provided in 2007.

Weatherford Hall at Oregon State University

Here is some information that I hope aids you and shows how Oregon State remains a public university for Oregonians.

I realize that while your column largely shared statistics about the University of Oregon, your point was that all of Oregon’s public universities are public in name only.

While OSU’s out-of-state and international enrollment has grown over the past decade, OSU’s undergraduate enrollment is still 74% made up of Oregonians. That percentage has declined over the past decade, but we have pledged to not let it fall below 66%. That’s our land grant mission.

Meanwhile, we have launched OSU Open Campus to bring educational programs directly to Oregon communities in partnership with local school districts, ESDs and community colleges. And we have dual degree partnerships with all of our Oregon’s 17 community colleges … so students can simultaneously enroll at OSU and the community college near their home and then transfer after a year or two of community college to attend Oregon State without losing credits. In some cases – such as in an agricultural sciences program with Klamath Community College – a student can graduate in four years without ever having to come to Corvallis, but instead take community college courses for two years or so and then complete their degree taking OSU on-line distance learning classes.

We do recognize tuition and fees are expensive. OSU’s in-state tuition and fees are $9,123 per year compared to the $9,918 you pointed out about UO. Still that is a lot more than students paid 7 to 10 years ago. Out-of-state tuition at OSU is $26,295 per year compared with $30,888 at UO.

With such a heavy tuition load in mind, we launched many years ago our Bridge to Success program. It enables 2,600 to 3,000 Oregonians per year to attend OSU without paying any tuition and fees. The program combines Oregon Opportunity Grants, federal Pell funds and university funds. And then there is our OSU Foundation philanthropy – The Campaign for OSU has raised more than $183 million for student scholarships.

Yes, there is a significant issue with how the state funds higher education in Oregon and we are working with the legislature to change that. Time will tell about such efforts. Meanwhile, as Oregon’s statewide university, we will not abandon Oregonians. And we will work hard to moderate costs, bring higher education to many Oregon communities, and grow funding for financial aid for students.

Steve Clark

Sometimes it pays to go with the crowd

By Bill MacKenzie

It seems like nearly everybody is trying to raise money for their personal use through online “crowdfunding.” It’s clearly not just for start-up businesses.

Crowdfunding — funding a project by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people — is exploding in Hillsboro, throughout Oregon and across the United States.

Even Caroline Channing, the tall blonde in the TV show “2 Broke Girls,” is a believer. In a recent episode, she went on a crowdfunding website, gofundyourself.com, in an attempt to raise $1,500 for a new pair of pants.

If you believe in the wisdom of the crowd, the Internet is bursting with opportunities to join others investing in people.

Keith Merrow of Hillsboro recently sought to raise $15,000 on a crowdfunding website, Indiegogo.com. His band, Conquering Dystopia, wanted to use the money to record an album.

In just 45 days, his campaign raised $35,320, more than double his goal, from 792 contributors, some as far away as Australia.

Typical of arrangements on Indiegogo, contributors got no financial return on their investment, but could pick a gift based on the amount of their donation. A $10 donation spurred a digital download of the album; a $500 donation earned a VIP dinner with band members at the Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle.

Matt Peterson of Hillsboro tried to raise $3,000 on another crowdfunding website, GoFundMe.com, so he could go to a 28-day intensive wrestling camp. He reached $1,750 from 16 people in six months, then secured the rest from family.

At GoFundMe, participants usually raise money for themselves, a friend or a loved one for purposes such as medical expenses, education costs, volunteer programs and youth sports. Fundraisers can keep every donation they get or get the donations only if they reach a pre-set goal.

A different approach is offered by the crowdfunding website pave.com, an online funding platform that allows individuals to support promising high achievers. Pave claims it’s “a new investment option, not a donation.” If the investees achieve financial success, they agree to share that with their investors.

Oren Bass, who co-founded Pave in 2012, said his motivation was basic: “To provide people with what I consider a better financing option than debt — one that allows risk-taking plus the collaboration and support of the community; and to build something with both social and macro-economic impact.”

At Pave, the percentage of income an investee commits to sharing with investors varies depending on the amount of funding raised, along with how much the recipient is expected to earn.

Stephanie Walker, an engineering student at Oregon State University, recently launched a campaign on Pave. She hopes to raise $50,000 to pay off her student loans so she can pursue a career in sustainable engineering and product design with a focus on creating sustainable materials.

Close to 30 prospects have already raised over $400,000 through Pave, and a few have started making payments to their backers.

Though crowdfunding is gaining wide acceptance, there is reason to be cautious.

To guard against fraud, Pave does extensive checks to verify identities, review credit histories and check any “structured data” a prospect supplies, such as college attendance, GPA, and work employment history.

GoFundMe is much looser in its oversight.

“With hundreds of thousands of campaigns, it’s not feasible for GoFundMe to investigate the claims stated by each campaign organizer,” reads an excerpt from the GoFundMe website.

I’m not sure what motivates people to give money online to complete strangers. Maybe a lot of people who have had good fortune want to pay it forward. Maybe it’s just a charitable impulse.

But you can’t check the veracity of a lot of crowdfunding proposals. Some are the equivalent of the infamous Nigerian email scams where mass emails promise great riches to potential victims. The entire personal crowdfunding platform relies largely on trust, something scammers have always known how to exploit. So prudence should be the watchword.

 

Bill MacKenzie is a former congressional staff member, newspaper reporter and communications manager for a Hillsboro company.

Originally published in the Hillsboro Tribune,  Nov. 15, 2013