September 2010

Tier One? U.S. News rankings encourage us toward our goals

Every fall, certain events and rituals take place on campus. Students move in, many trailing teary moms loaded down with dorm or apartment furnishings. Faculty and staff gather to greet their new peers and renew relationships with established colleagues. Spirit Rock gets a new coat of paint exhorting freshmen to attend Convocation, join a social club or come to Comet Carnival. (Sometimes the paint and the message seem to change nearly hourly!)

There are external markers to the beginning of the new academic year too. One is the release of rankings of universities and colleges and their programs by various publications and organizations. I watch these with interest, and analyze them for what they can tell us about our position relative to peer institutions and about the marketplace perception of UT Dallas and higher education as a whole.

U.S. News and World Report published its “Best National Universities” ranking in August. UT Dallas ranked for the first time in the first tier at No. 143 nationally, tying Arizona State, Rutgers and the University of Illinois at Chicago, among others. We were 72nd among all public universities in our category. We were 3rd among Texas public universities, trailing UT Austin and Texas A&M. And we were No. 1 among Texas’ seven emerging research universities, as defined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Reaction to the news varied, from students who proudly posted the ranking on their Facebook and Twitter accounts to the brief but well-reported item that ran in the pages of The Dallas Morning News, giving scores for all of the ranked local institutions as well as A&M, UT Austin and Rice. Several alumni asked staffers if this meant we had arrived at our Tier One goal.

External evaluators’ benchmarking of UT Dallas’ progress always interests me. It’s clear that part of the reason the University moved into the top U.S. News tier is because the ranking system has changed. High school counselors’ feedback reportedly has been given weight, and if that were among the reasons we have climbed, I’d be particularly pleased. We are here to serve students and we value counselors’ opinions and have made particular efforts to inform them better in recent years.

I speak for many of my colleagues when I say we’re pleased to see UT Dallas in U.S. News’ version of Tier One. We are in this race for the long term, however, and while we pause to celebrate this new numerical ranking, we’re just as proud of some equally important—maybe more important—numbers: since 2007, enrollment is up 15 percent; research expenditures, by 60 percent. Our freshman class this fall has a preliminary SAT average of 1255. (Their parents are probably, and justifiably, even more proud than we are.)

UT Dallas is all about excellence. It is gratifying when others benchmark and recognize our progress as we enter what is truly a new era of ascendency and national recognition.

About This Newsletter

The President’s Viewpoint is a periodic newsletter distributed to a select group of alumni, friends, faculty and staff. It comes from the desk of Dr. David E. Daniel, President of The University of Texas at Dallas, and provides the ultimate insider’s view on the news and concerns of the university.