Adams sees UGA among 5 best schools

The five best universities in the country are Stanford, the University of Chicago, MIT, Cal Tech and the University of Georgia - at least according to UGA President Michael Adams.

 

Adams picked those schools as his top five in a peer assessment survey that accounts for the biggest part of the formula used for the increasingly controversial U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings.

Those five schools were the only ones to get Adams' nod as "distinguished" on this year's so-called reputational survey, which asks college presidents or other top administrators to rank other schools on a five-point scale - distinguished, strong, good, adequate or the lowest score, marginal.

Adams listed 56 other colleges as merely strong, the second-highest ranking, including most of the 57 universities that were ranked ahead of UGA in last year's U.S. News & World Report rankings.

And Duke University is among the 161 universities that deserve only a "good," ranking, according to Adams' survey - though Duke tied for No. 8 in the magazine's 2009 national rankings, released in September.

UGA was ranked 58th among all U.S. universities, public and private, and tied for 20th among public universities, according to the magazine.

Harvard, Princeton and Yale topped the magazine's national university rankings. The University of California-Berkeley, the University of Virginia and UCLA led the U.S. News rankings for publicly funded schools.

U.S. News doesn't release the data it receives from colleges, but at least one other Southeastern Conference university president favored his own university, but was tight-fisted when it came to giving good marks to others.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen only gave four universities a distinguished ranking - Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Florida.

UGA officials released Adams' rankings in response to an open records request by the Athens Banner-Herald.

The presidents' peer reviews are one of the major defects in the flaw-ridden U.S. News college ranking system, according to Lloyd Thacker, executive director of the Education Conservancy, an organization devoted to reforming college admissions process.

"They're ludicrous," he said of the surveys. "If you're the president of a university, would you want this kind of behavior from students you educate?"

Universities' scores on the peer reviews survey is the single largest factor in the U.S. News ranking system.

"It's so funny, and yet it accounts for 25 percent of a college's ranking," Thacker said.

The magazine also takes into account other factors such as how selective a college is in admitting students (15 percent), graduation and retention rates (20 percent) and faculty resources (20 percent), which includes average faculty pay, student-faculty ratio and what percent of the faculty have doctorates.

Only 46 percent of colleges and universities participated in the peer assessment last year, down from 67 percent just a few years ago - partly because of a boycott effort led by the Education Conservancy.

Sixty-seven college and university presidents have signed a letter the conservancy is circulating calling for a new system to rank institutions of higher education. The letter, first sent out two years ago, also called for college leaders to boycott the reputational survey, Thacker said.

However, many other colleges and universities, including UGA, use their place in the rankings to recruit students.

Some universities have gone to great lengths to improve their rankings.

A Clemson University researcher shocked a professional meeting at the Association for Institutional Research in Atlanta last month by describing some of the steps the South Carolina university has taken to improve its national ranking among public universities from 38 to 22 during the past eight years.

The researcher said Clemson administrators ranked all other universities below average in the peer assessment survey.

UGA never has taken any specific steps to improve faculty salary, class size or any other criteria solely to improve UGA's ranking, said Cynthia Hoke, a spokeswoman for the university.

"We recruit the best and brightest students and work diligently to give them an excellent academic experience," she said.

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