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IOWA CITY — An assessment of new U.S. News & World Report rankings out Monday — along with several metrics used to decide them — indicates the University of Iowa and Iowa State University fall below their Board of Regents-assigned peers in many categories, except one key measure: acceptance rate.
Where, for example, University of Michigan — ranking third among public universities and No. 25 overall nationally — accepted 20 percent of its 79,743 applicants in the last academic year, UI accepted more than four times that rate at 86 percent of its 22,434 applicants.
On the U.S. News 2022-2023 Best Colleges list out Monday, UI ranked No. 83 overall and No. 35 among just public universities — falling below every one of its 10 assigned peers except the University of Arizona, which ranked No. 105 overall and No. 48 among publics.
Among its peers, only Arizona at 87 percent and Indiana University at 85 percent accepted applicants at or near the same rate as UI — and Indiana was the only of those to top UI in the rankings, placing No. 72 overall and No. 29 among publics.
In general, the more selective the school — according to a ranking-acceptance rate comparison — the higher the U.S. News rank, which is based on metrics like first-year retention rate, six-year graduation rate, SAT and ACT scores, and high school rank.
The highest-ranked UI peer, for example — University of California-Los Angeles — accepted 11 percent of its 139,489 applicants and came in as the No. 1 public university in the nation and No. 20 overall. Big Ten peers in the group like No. 10-ranked University of Wisconsin, No. 13-ranked University of Illinois, and No. 16-ranked Ohio State University all accepted around 60 percent of students, according to date from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
UI, like its sister Board of Regents institutions Iowa State and University of Northern Iowa, has limited say in what students it admits — given the regents’ 13-year-old admission index mandating automatic admission to in-state freshman applicants who meet a certain bar.
The Regent Admission Index is calculated using an applicant’s ACT score, cumulative GPA, and number of years of approved high school courses. Every Iowa high schooler who scores a 245 or higher on the index lands automatic admission to any of the three public universities.
An example of a score topping 245 that would grant an in-state applicant automatic admission to UI, ISU, and UNI is 20 complete core courses, a 3.0 GPA, and 20 on the ACT. And students with scores under 245 can be admitted if a university deems an offer is warranted.
“Each university evaluates applicants with less than a 245 RAI score holistically (on an individual basis) and makes their own admission decisions,” according to a Board of Regents FAQ on the index.
The board recently amended its index to remove class rank from the calculation — given fewer high schools are ranking students. And even before the RAI’s adoption in 2009, Iowa’s trio of public universities offered automatic admission for any Iowa student in the top half of their graduating class, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.
“That was in place going back as far as the 1950s,” he said.
Iowa State, UNI
Iowa State — which fell in this year’s U.S. News rankings from No. 122 to No. 127 overall and from No. 58 to No. 61 among public universities — reported an even higher acceptance rate than UI last year at 91 percent of its 20,357 applicants.
For comparison, its top-ranked peer — UC-Davis — admitted 49 percent of its 32,998 applicants. Only two of Iowa State’s peers neared its standard of accepting the vast majority of students who applied — Penn State University at 92 percent and Michigan State University at 83 percent.
UNI — which ranked No. 2 among regional publics in the Midwest and No. 17 overall in the region — boasted the same acceptance rate as UI, admitting 86 percent of its 4,772 applicants last year.
The only one of its board-assigned peers to top it in the regional rankings at No. 1 among Midwestern publics was Truman State University, which admitted far fewer of its 4,068 applicants at 61 percent.
Many of UNI’s lower-ranking peers reported higher acceptance rates last year, like Marshall University, which accepted 98 percent of its 5,602 applicants; Western Washington, admitting 96 percent of its 10,580 applicants; and Southern Illinois, which accepted 98 percent of its 8,995 applicants.
Admission rates have become a recent topic of discussion regionally and nationally as the number high school graduates in Iowa is expected to wane in the coming years while the pool also grows more demographically and socioeconomically diverse.
“The fall 2022 incoming class reflects the increasing diversity of the state, with a 24 percent increase in students from ethnic and racial minority groups,” UNI recently announced in disclosing its preliminary fall 2022 enrollment of 8,949 — down 3 percent from last fall’s 9,231.
Iowa residents this year comprise 92 percent of UNI’s undergraduate enrollment and 91 percent of its total enrollment, with this year’s crop of UNI students reigning from all 99 Iowa counties, 43 states, and 51 countries internationally.
Among metrics playing into its U.S. News ranking, UNI has an 84 percent average first-year retention rate and a 69 percent six-year graduation rate.
“These statistics highlight UNI's continued commitment to student access and success,” said UNI President Mark Nook said in a statement.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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