Higher education leaders across Iowa — including those with the Board of Regents and its public universities — have been vocal about their desire to improve nationally, namely in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of top colleges and universities.
The latest report, released Tuesday, shows the University of Iowa didn’t budge from No. 82 among national universities in the 2017 U.S. News rankings. Iowa State University slipped from No. 108 last year to No. 111.
Among the country’s top public schools, both universities inched up one spot — UI moving to No. 33 and ISU to No. 51.
The University of Northern Iowa, although not ranked nationally, slipped on the list of Midwest universities from No. 18 to No. 20. It held onto its No. 2 spot among public institutions in the regional category.
The rankings compare the academic quality of more than 1,800 U.S.-based schools on up to 15 measures. Although they are among many scores that emerge annually, the U.S. News rankings have become a go-to for shopping students and are often cited by experts and administrators.
In response to Tuesday’s rankings, UI Provost Barry Butler stressed an institution “cannot be measured by a ranking alone.”
“However, the metrics used to calculate this ranking, as well as others are important because they speak to our values,” he said in a statement. “Measuring our progress on student retention and graduation rates, research and scholarship and faculty recruitment, retention and salaries are priorities for our institution and are indicators we will continue to track and strive to improve.”
The universities did see some notable improvements in specific categories, including ISU’s rise to the top of the list of agricultural and biosystems engineering programs. The ISU department moved from its runner-up status last year among all national universities and all public universities, tying with Purdue University.
That crowning marks ISU’s first-ever U.S. News top ranking, said Steve Mickelson, professor and chairman of ISU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.
“Our goal has been to become No. 1, so this is quite a feather in our cap,” Mickelson said. “We are kind of partying over here today.”
Mickelson credited, in part, the department’s state-of-the-art facilities — which it moved into in 2014 — and the benefit they had in recruiting faculty and students.
ISU also made the national list for undergraduate engineering programs at No. 37 — it ranked No. 36 in that category last year. And it earned a No. 77 spot among undergrad business programs — up from No. 80 last year.
It improved in “best colleges for veterans” — moving from 89 to 73.
The UI also saw improvement in its colleges-for-veterans status, moving from 67 to 50. It landed at No. 32 for undergrad business programs and No. 63 for undergrad engineering programs — neither was ranked last year.
UI President Bruce Harreld has harped on his institution’s slide in the national rankings, repeatedly pointing out that the UI has fallen 22 spots from No. 60 in 2006 to No. 82 and that it sits below many of its peers.
He has called on the campus to focus resources around the values behind those rankings — including improving faculty pay. In January, he rolled out a faculty initiative the university called a “top priority for fiscal year 2017.”
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“According to U.S. News & World Report, the university’s faculty compensation rankings dropped 26 spots to 103rd since 2004,” according to a January news release. “During that same period, the UI’s rankings as an institution dropped 25 spots to 82nd. Harreld sees a correlation.”