We’re number 68!

August 21, 2007 | 34 comments
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BYU shot up over 50 places in the university rankings that were just released this week. Not in the US News and World Report rankings, where BYU continues to bounce around the 70s, but in the Washington Monthly rankings of universities’ based on their contributions to society, where BYU went from 124 to 68, right between Loyola Chicago and Brown.

Rankings are always the object of scorn among academics, and envy. The US News ranking aims to capture some sense of overall academic quality. BYU could stand to move up a few notches, but with an undergraduate focus and a modest tuition, there are limits on how high it can go without incurring trade-offs against its core mission.

The Washington Monthly ranking seems like a better fit for a school that wants its students to “go forth to serve.” The ranking tries to capture how well a school fosters social mobility, knowledge production, and service (the methodology is explained here). BYU’s big jump this year is encouraging, but there’s still some untapped potential for future improvement. Let’s take a look at the categories:

Social mobility
Percentage of students receiving Pell Grants. At 37%, BYU is already doing fairly well here. Could more low-income LDS students be encouraged to attend BYU? Probably. (There’s a variety of tribal self-loathing that says that BYU students are not actually poor, but merely married. I think this is a foolish objection; for the students I knew, the Pell Grant was the difference between staying in school and one partner dropping out for a semester or more to support the spouse or family.)
SAT/Pell Grant-based graduation rate. The ratings use a formula that attempts to predict the graduation rate based on SAT scores (higher average SAT means a higher likelihood of graduation) and Pell Grants as a stand-in for serving low income students (which correlates with a lower graduation rate). BYU students graduate at a rate 3 percentage points higher than predicted, although BYU’s graduation rate is always going to be a bit wonky. Some additional advising (as opposed to omnipresent but unspecific pressuring) to help students graduate in a timely fashion couldn’t hurt, but I don’t know if this is a big growth area.

Research
B.A. to Ph.D. As a primarily undergraduate institution, BYU shines in preparing students for graduate school in any field. It ranks at #8 in this area.
Research dollars. The rest of the research burden falls on the scientists and engineers. The top institutions pull in hundreds of millions of dollars in research funding per year. BYU pulls in ten million, for which there are institutional reasons. There’s room to expand here.
Ph.D.s granted in science and engineering. As the sciences and engineering are some of the few areas where BYU awards a Ph.D., this isn’t a complete mismatch for BYU’s profile. I’ll leave it to the scientists and engineers to explain when it makes sense to earn a Ph.D. in their fields, and under what circumstances it makes sense to earn that degree at BYU.

Service
Peace Corps. Unsurprisingly, BYU does not send a lot of graduates to the Peace Corps. More would be better, but a lot of us already had two years of voluntary service in odd places under our belts by the time we got to our sophomore year. I don’t know if there’s much growth potential here.
ROTC. The size of BYU’s ROTC program relative to its student body is ranked 64, almost precisely where the school lands in the overall ranking. I assume the BYU students who want to participate in ROTC already are doing so.
Work-Study. In the percentage of federal work-study funds spent on service, BYU is dead last. It devotes 0% to service. The top-ranked schools in this category devote over 50%, but 21% would get BYU ranked in the top 50, and even 15% would almost get it into the top 100. I don’t know how much money is involved, but I can think of worse ways to game the system.

The Washington Monthly rankings have an ideal of social utility that’s a good but not perfect match for BYU’s own mission. It’s close enough that it’s still useful to see how BYU is doing according to the Washington Monthly’s standards. Overall, I think BYU is doing OK. In some areas it’s doing very well, in others less well, and some things it’s not doing at all. I think we can skip both the triumphal crowing and the anxious hand-wringing, but there is some cause to hope.

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34 Responses to We’re number 68!

  1. RayB on August 21, 2007 at 9:16 am

    How ironic! Since The Washington Monthly is a liberal publication, and Kevin Drum a liberal blogger, this means conservative BYU is ranked higher by a liberal publication than it is by a conservative publication.

    I’m puzzled by your statement, “We’re number 68.” Who’s “we”? I hate to break it to you, but not everyone in the church attends — or attended — BYU, and not everyone cares just where BYU is ranked or by whom.

  2. se7en on August 21, 2007 at 10:00 am

    The statement “we’re number 68″ is not even presuming that YOU (RayB) went to BYU, or cares about BYU. Does the ‘We’ include every blogger that visits this site? By no means.

    Furthermore, assuming these rankings mean a whole lot, ‘We’ is appropriate because BYU is the Church’s university, and its image reflects on the Church. It is a good thing for the Church, for it to be ranked higher, (hence the exclamation point), and the “We’ is to include those faithful church members that want our light to shine forth to the world.

    You should care about BYU, if you care about the Church, but I can understand that you don’t care what it is ranked… They don’t mean a whole lot.

  3. Seth R. on August 21, 2007 at 10:36 am

    In some sense, BYU represents Mormonism. I’m a Mormon. So in some sense, BYU represents me (regardless of which football team I root for).

  4. Ray on August 21, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Now that Kyle Wittingham is coaching the football team, I care a lot more than I did for the last few years. : -)

    If “service” is considered, then missions should be counted in that category. I also would need a little more info on the Work-Study/Service issue. As it is, I have no idea what that means.

  5. Bob on August 21, 2007 at 11:23 am

    #2: We’re #1! (Bob in LA), it’s got everyone moving to Central LA ! !

  6. queuno on August 21, 2007 at 11:45 am

    I’ll leave it to the scientists and engineers to explain when it makes sense to earn a Ph.D. in their fields, and under what circumstances it makes sense to earn that degree at BYU.

    BYU is a great undergraduate institution, but I have found superior PhD programs at state university hyphenates. BYU’s graduate programs do very well, but they are limited in some of the work they can do because they don’t accept some types of research dollars (I have family members teaching at BYU).

    If someone got their undergraduate degree from BYU, I don’t know why they would stay to get their PhD as well.

    That said – as a BYU graduate, I am still bothered when they sponsor fundraising events at baseball games under the name “Mormon Night”, and raise the scholarship funds for BYU scholarships. If you’re going to use the moniker “Mormon Night”, the monies should go to Mormon students from the area, irrespective of what university they attend.

    I also think BYU should scrap football, but that’s another topic.

  7. queuno on August 21, 2007 at 11:47 am

    In some sense, BYU represents Mormonism. I’m a Mormon. So in some sense, BYU represents me (regardless of which football team I root for).

    What about Southern Virginia University? Do you see that as representing you and your values? (And if so, does their athletic scandal reflect poorly?)

  8. Adam Greenwood on August 21, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    BYU has quite good engineering Ph.D. programs, though they tend to be specialized or niche.

  9. roland on August 21, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695202772,00.html

    All the college rankings are out – and the Princeton Review once again lists BYU as the top Stone-Cold Sober Party School.

    “The statement “we’re number 68″ is not even presuming that YOU (RayB) went to BYU, or cares about BYU. Does the ‘We’ include every blogger that visits this site? By no means”

    However, my school frequently got the #1 Party School Ranking. And the best BYU college football game I went to – me and my LDS institute friends held up a sign at large sign over the endzone of the WAC championship in 1986. “Mormons for SDSU!” “We” won that game.

  10. Adam Greenwood on August 21, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    And I think ‘you’ have won at least one other game since then. Be proud.

    the Princeton Review once again lists BYU as the top Stone-Cold Sober Party School.

    Dang straight, by golly!

  11. Seth R. on August 21, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    “What about Southern Virginia University? Do you see that as representing you and your values?”

    Oh great. One more thing to worry about. Thanks queuno.

  12. queuno on August 21, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    BYU has quite good engineering Ph.D. programs, though they tend to be specialized or niche.

    Yes. As a ABD in engineering, they have good programs, but they aren’t top-tier. However, their undergraduate programs in science/engineering are excellent. My PhD committee (not BYU) was staggered by the quality and size of my undergrad program at BYU.

  13. queuno on August 21, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Seth – I was just trying to point out that any Church member who thinks that BYU reflects on them, then so does SVU and its recent scandal. We can’t cherrypick what light reflects on us.

    Or … maybe it’s that BYU/SVU, etc. do NOT reflect on us any more than Notre Dame or Boston College reflect on Catholics, or SMU reflects on Methodists (the ultimate in football scandals), or murder and coverups at Baylor reflect on Baptists…

  14. non-cougar on August 21, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    I’m happy to let many BYU students and alum be thrilled for their school, and to let those who didn’t attend but identify with it to be pleased too. I just don’t consider BYU to have anything more to do with my spirituality than any insurance company the church may own. In fact, if I had to consider BYU as an expression of my religious beliefs, things would be infinitely more complicated.

    I just don’t feel part of the “we,” and see no LDS reason to do so. But congrats to all those who do.

  15. Bob on August 21, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    College Football only links to money and beer, be prove if you don’t.

  16. John Mansfield on August 21, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    What happens with an institution of 30,000 people, 98% of them Latter-day Saints which is sponsored by the Church, reflects on all Latter-day Saints whether they are fans of the institution or not.

  17. Adam Greenwood on August 21, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    I just don’t consider BYU to have anything more to do with my spirituality than any insurance company the church may own.

    If the church owned an insurance company as part of its religious mission, I wouldn’t be able to dissassociate so well. At the same time, BYU isn’t the church, so if I hadn’t gone there I would probably feel about it the same way I do the Mormons in a neighboring state (or the way I feel about SVU). I’m proud of their successes and embarassed by their failures but I don’t precisely feel involved or responsible.

  18. manaen on August 21, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Re: I just don’t feel part of the “we,” and see no LDS reason to do so. But congrats to all those who do.

    As a financial wonk, my answer is: “Support your tithing!” I suppose that, financially, you are more connected to BYU and it’s sponsoring institution than to any other school/sponsor. ;->

  19. spencer on August 21, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Just 14 more spots and you’ll catch up to us at Utah State!

  20. Matt Evans on August 21, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Whether or not Mormons identify with BYU, non-Mormons certainly identify BYU with the church. I’ll bet that if you asked random Americans what they know about the church, “BYU” would be a Top 10 answer. And if you asked random Americans what they know about BYU, “Mormon” would probably be the number one answer.

  21. Bob on August 21, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    #20: “if you asked random Americans what they know about BYU, “Mormon” would probably be the number one answer” Sorry. “Nothing” would be the #1 answer.

  22. Greg B. on August 21, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    What most stands out to me is BYU’s imbalance (extremely high and low scores). Also, the top drawer undergraduate-focused institutions are listed in a separate liberal arts ranking.

  23. Jonathan Green on August 21, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Wonderful. I don’t usually see so many people anxious to jump in and tell me why a post is totally irrelevant to them.

  24. Ron on August 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Glad to here it. Except, I’m not glad to hear that lots of Pell Grants increase your score. I refused government grants out of principle. So I guess we have more little socialists at BYU than we did before. (dons flamesuit)

  25. Ray on August 21, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Interesting. I accepted government grants because I couldn’t have gotten the same type of education by refusing them on principle.

  26. Adam Greenwood on August 21, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Nice threadjack in your flame suit, Ron. Listen, y’all, I know the morality of college students taking govt. aid hardly ever gets debated on the bloggernacle, no more than once a week or so, but you’re just going to have to restrain yourselves.

  27. Chad Too on August 21, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Southern Virginia had a scandal? I hadn’t heard anything and there are a goodly number who go there from these parts. Who’s got details? More importantly, will Mariska Hartigay be investigating the SVU scandal?

  28. Mark IV on August 21, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Chad too,

    The football program was paying players. Read all about it:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/dn/view/1,5143,695201881,00.html

  29. Chad Too on August 21, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    Oy. And they turned themselves in so, ipso facto, no Mariska. Just when I was thinking how beautiful a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway would be in autumn…

  30. Naismith on August 22, 2007 at 6:57 am

    One of only five criteria in the “party school” ranking is Greek involvement, at which BYU is always going to be dead last.

    This is embarassing for a BYU alum to admit, but I never figured out why there were no fraternities or sororities. Does anyone know?

    (While I was there, as a new convert, I was more worried about flunking religion classes and figuring out the local dialect…)

  31. roland on August 22, 2007 at 11:57 am

    For a listing of stone-cold sober party activities available at BYU – try this site:

    http://www.maintour.com/utah/prvbyu.htm

  32. Bob on August 22, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    What happens if the #1 ‘Party School’ also best BYU in the Washington rankings?

  33. Scott Fife on August 22, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    To Mormons, BYU is referred to as “we” for the following reasons: (1) The Prophet’s signature is on every BYU diploma. (2) A General Authority is president of BYU. This has been the case since 1996. (3) Tithing collected from members of the Church worldwide, pays approximately 70 percent of BYU’s tuition costs. All tithe paying Mormons “own” a piece of BYU. (4) The President of the Church is the chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees. The two vice chairman are his counselors in the First Presidency. Five members of the Quorum of the Twelve, are board members. (5) BYU is OUR Church school, as are BYU-Idaho, and BYU-Hawaii.

    For those reasons, and others that could be listed, all Mormons should be interested in what happens at BYU regardless of where they live or what school they attend or graduated from. We all help in the financial support of BYU and this school is very important to the Church.

  34. queuno on August 22, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    I just wish BYU would stop putting the label of “Mormon Night” on scholarship fundraisers that don’t benefit Mormon students who don’t attend BYU. Seems a bit disingenuous to me.

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