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Rice falls in THE rankings

By Ben Hawriluk     2/15/12 6:00pm

Rice University dropped to 72nd in 2012 from 47th in 2011 in the Times Higher Education University Rankings.

The rankings employ multiple performance indicators under five main categories – teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook. Rice received an overall score of 59 out of 100, with subscores of 45.9 in teaching, 39.7 in international outlook, 36.2 in industry income, 38 in research and 99.9 in citations.

Unlike the list compiled by U.S. News and World Report, the THE rankings include both international and American institutions.

Rice experienced its sharpest score drops in the teaching category, down from 57.4 in 2011, and research, down from 50.6 in 2011. Since teaching and research scores sum to 60 percent of the total score, Rice suffered a net decline in score from 66.9 to 59.

Director of Institutional Research Ratna Sarkar said that the teaching category does not effectively evaluate the undergraduate learning experience. The Office of Institutional Research ran a statistical analysis of the data and found that the scores in the teaching category have a 90 percent statistical correlation to the scores in the research category, according to Sarkar.

The THE rankings use metrics such as the ratio of the number of faculty members with Ph.D.s to the total number of faculty members and the ratio of Ph.D. students to bachelor's degree students. These metrics, listed under the teaching category, benefit universities with a relatively large number of graduate students.

"The difficulty is that they're trying to satisfy more than 17,000 academics from 137 countries," Sarkar said.

President David Leebron said the university is being penalized for having a large number of undergraduates relative to graduate students.

"That's a particular vision that THE has for a university," Leebron said. "That's not our vision."

Leebron said it would be foolish to conclude that the change in Rice's THE ranking reflects a significant change in the quality of a Rice education.

"The THE's revision of its methodology suggests that they're still working out what makes sense when comparing schools on an international stage," Sarkar said.

Since THE does not reveal all the details behind its methodology, it is not clear what specifically caused the changes in Rice's rankings, Sarkar said. For example, Sarkar said 15 percent of the overall score is determined by a "reputational survey," which is not clearly defined by THE.

Rice's spot on the THE rankings has fluctuated substantially over the past few years, according to Senior Director of News and Media Relations BJ Almond. Last year, Rice ranked 47th; the year before that, Rice ranked 100th.

"Despite its small size, Rice is still ranked among the top 100 of all universities worldwide by THE," Almond said. "That's something to be proud of."

McMurtry College freshman Regina Leslie said Rice's success as a university may fluctuate in a short time period but rises pretty consistently over the long term.

"We have accumulated so much great recognition that it would be hard for these rankings to have too significant of an effect," Leslie said.

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