As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the academic year has its own unique seasons and rhythms. At the beginning of October, the admissions process begins and another notable period, the rankings season, ends – and it has been quite a rankings season for San Diego State University.
Most notably, U.S. News and World Report named us to its list of top “Up-and-Coming Schools.” We were ranked #14 nationally on the list of universities “making the most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty and student life.” In an analysis of this year’s rankings, the Washington Post reported that we have increased our overall ranking the most of any university in the country since 2011 (31 places).
Other rankings also recognized our efforts. For example, Washington Monthly ranked us #6 nationally for the economic value of our degrees. Similarly, individual programs and colleges were also recognized in national rankings. Our International Business program was ranked #8 in the nation by U.S. News, and our College of Engineering was ranked #15 in a national survey of the economic value of engineering degrees.
This national recognition is a testament to the dedication and passion of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters. By highlighting the university’s excellence, it will attract new students and add value to the degrees of our current students and alumni. These distinctions are especially noteworthy given the significant challenges that are transforming public higher education in California, and they occasion many questions. The two I get most frequently are “Do rankings matter?” and “How did we move up?”
My answer to the question of whether rankings matter is a decided “yes.” Put directly, rankings reflect (and create) prestige – a reputation based on achievement and success – and achievement and success matter to students, their families, our alumni and prospective employers. The rankings are especially important for students and their families who are not familiar with the university. Colleges and universities are complex, hard-to-understand places, and attending a college or university requires a very significant investment of time and money. The rankings try to help students and their families understand the investment they are about to make. No ranking can fully characterize an individual university or quantify the match between the needs of an individual student and the strength of a specific university, but students and their families find the rankings to be a useful starting point.
The question of why we have moved up in various rankings has been analyzed in detail by Business Insider. Three factors were cited as critical: our campuswide efforts to support student success that improved our retention and graduation rates, the growth of our research efforts and their overall impact on our academic programs, and the success of our first comprehensive fundraising campaign which has raised over $425 million to date. Each of these factors has contributed directly to metrics used in rankings and, indirectly, to the overall reputation of our university.
There is, however, more to it. Underlying each individual factor is something more fundamental – a spirit of innovation that aspires to make our university better and always seems to find a way to do so. It is this spirit of innovation that underlies our efforts to improve student success, advance research and build our culture of philanthropy. This same spirit – this can-do attitude – motivates the ambitious initiatives proposed in our recently completed strategic plan “Building on Excellence,” and I am certain that it will propel us forward as we pursue these initiatives and advance our university.