The Florida Board of Governors is weighing how national rankings should impact the state’s public universities. When it comes to evaluating schools, the board agrees metrics should matter, but how much?
Florida’s state university system governing board wants the public universities to climb in the national rankings. But which one? Several groups rank schools. U.S. News and World Report is the most popular, but there’s also Newsweek, and Kiplinger. The Princeton Review. And none of the outlets ranks the schools the same way. s
“There are 12 different rankings that we use from magazines and organizations, like Princeton Review, Forbes, U.S. News and if any of the institutions are ranked top, or higher, in those organizations, then they’re included in this metric," says Jan Ignash, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the Florida Board of Governors.
Basically, if you get a ranking, you get credit for it. But a lot of the rankings don’t relate to the quality of a school. Some, just focus on cost. And in Florida, tuition is low, so many schools tend to rank high in a publication like Kiplingers, which focuses on affordability. Board Chairman Mori Housseini says there are enough different ranking systems that each school should strive to climb in at least one of them.
“Is it fair to say, if we’re going to use all these different metrics, then to say all our universities need to be in the top 50, all of them, in something?” He says.
The board of governors is using a goals-based system to fund the universities, and rankings play a role. So do measurements like graduation rates, and the numbers of highly-ranked high school students that get admitted. Those measures also impact national rankings. And Florida’s public universities are expected to increase their performance in those areas, but one place the board is making downward adjustments, is in the area of how much schools are expected to raise through external sources, like federally-supported research and development grants. As University of Florida Provost Joe Glover explains, there’s just not enough money to go around from sources like the National Institutes for Health, or NIH.
“What you have right now is the head of NIH actually talking about a really dire situation," says Glover. "They’re flat-lining. A lower percentage of grants than ever before is being funded. The age at which you get your first significant grant funding is the highest in history.”
Florida’s public university system missed its external funding goal by a billion dollars this year. And when national rankings take into account how much schools get in grants, universities will have to get more aggressive and creative in going after a shrinking pot of money.