University of Iowa bumps up in rankings

Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa slip

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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld since arriving two years ago has beseeched his campus to improve its national rankings — citing UI slips in the much-touted U.S. News & World Report as recently as last month during a presentation in which he urged tuition hikes.

Harreld has reported taking steps to improve the university’s standing among its U.S. News colleagues, committing more money to improve faculty salaries, granting deans more leverage in departmental spending, and prioritizing scholarship resources toward first-generation students and those who demonstrate need.

And the UI ranking took several steps in the right direction Tuesday.

New national rankings put UI at No. 78 among national universities and at No. 31 among public institutions. Last year, the university ranked No. 82 nationally and No. 33 among publics. The new placement doesn’t restore UI to its 2014 standing at No. 71 nationally and No. 27 among publics.

And it’s a far cry from a decade ago, as Harreld last month reminded the campus it has slipped 18 places in the U.S. News rankings over 10 years — moving it near the bottom among its peers. He continues to call for additional state resources and for more control from the Board of Regents over admission decisions.

“Rankings are a key source for students and families — especially top students with many choices,” Harreld noted in a presentation to the Board of Regents’ tuition task force last month.

Iowa’s other two public universities didn’t fare so well in the new report.

Iowa State University slipped from No. 111 nationally to No. 115. Among publics, ISU dropped from No. 51 to No. 53. In 2015, ISU ranked No. 108 nationally and No. 47 among public institutions.

University of Northern Iowa, according to the new rankings, is not ranked nationally overall or among publics. But, among Midwest institutions, it dropped from No. 20 overall to No. 25. It held steady among publics in the region at No. 2.

The U.S. News rankings — which include 300 U.S. public, private, and for-profit institutions in its “best national universities” category — is based on reputational data obtained from questionnaires filled out by administrators at more than 1,300 colleges and universities. The rankings also use objective data entered into a national data archive, including scores on academic quality indicators like graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, and alumni giving.

Iowa’s public universities were dealt a significant fiscal blow during the last Legislative session, when lawmakers agreed to take back more than $20 million in base state appropriations in the 2017 budget year that ended June 30 and another nearly $10 million from the base of its 2018 allocations.

In their scramble to accommodate the cuts, Iowa’s public universities pushed off maintenance projects, cut positions through attrition, and called for steep tuition hikes over the next five years — should state support remain static.

At Iowa State, Interim President Ben Allen decided not to mandate pay raises this year, while UI President Harreld took the opposite approach — encouraging better pay in hopes of retaining and recruiting top faculty.

Although students and lawmakers have opposed proposed tuition hikes for resident undergraduates at UI and Iowa State topping 40 percent over the next five years, the presidents have said the student experience and academic quality will suffer without new revenue.

Among all national universities ranked in this year’s U.S. News report, Princeton University topped the list, followed at No. 2 by Harvard University and at No. 3 by University of Chicago and Yale University — who tied.

Dig deeper into the U.S. News rankings here.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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