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The real rankings

carlson CHRIS


Memo to Don Soltman, President, Idaho Board of Education:

With all due respect allow me to bring to your attention the most recent ranking of universities and colleges in the United States put out annually by U.S. News and World Report. Please note that Idaho’s land grant university, the University of Idaho, despite the reduced rations the board and legislature have had it on, still is ranked 161list of national universities.

The faculty, the administration, boosters, alumni and students are all to be congratulated on this accomplishment for it comes despite your and Governor Otter’s systematic starving of its budget and your increasingly burdening students with more fees and charges. This ranking puts it in a tie with defending national basketball champion the University of Louisville and fellow western universities like the University of Wyoming.

Boise State is listed as #65 on the list of best REGIONAL universities in the west. Idaho State made the list of “also rans” (somewhere between 200 and 300) among NATIONAL universities. Spokane’s Gonzaga University is listed as #4 on that list of best western regional universities.

U.S. News has a very defensible list of criteria for its rankings, with key criteria being factors such as funding levels and endowments, percentage of those admitted in relation to the number of applications, research grants, grade point average of those admitted and attending, scores of students on national entrance tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and strength of faculty as well as classroom size.

Of course there are many critics of the news magazine’s criteria and this month’s latest Atlantic Monthly carries a good article on why one should ignore this annual exercise in bloviating by colleges claiming superiority especially in view of no serious effort being made to measure “outcomes” from the various schools. Nonetheless. . . .

Surely it is time for the Board to acknowledge its error in forbidding the only University referenced in the Idaho Constitution to call itself the state’s “flagship” university for in point of fact and by all measurements it is indeed the state’s flagship institution of higher learning.

These latest rankings ought to give the board cause for pause and for righting the wrong they have perpetrated.

Other rankings for public NATIONAL universities in the west were:

University of Washington, #52; University of Oregon, #109; the University of Utah¸#121; WSU, #128; Oregon State, #142; University of Nevada-Reno and the University of New Mexico, #181; New Mexico State, Utah State and North Dakota State, #190; Montana State and the University of Montana were also tied at #201.

Indeed, every public university in the Mountain West conference ranked higher academically than did Boise State. Despite all the spin and p.r. about BSU being an urban research university by the criteria that matters, whether it be the Carnegie Institute’s reviews or the U.S. News rankings, all say unequivocally BSU is not even close to having “made a mark” in the world of academia.

The board should review the news magazine’s material and then set about doing some reprioritizations that reward Idaho for its success despite great odds and incentivize ISU and BSU to do more to improve their professional academic standings.

The board unfortunately, with the exception of former utility executive Richard Westerberg, from Preston, has done nothing but rubber stamp the increasingly draconian budgets put forth by Governor Otter.

Westerberg set himself apart as a thoughtful commentator on the state of Idaho education with his outstanding work on the commission Governor Otter finally put together to draw up a set of reform recommendations with a broader base of support.

And what was the almost unanimous first recommendation of this citizen commission? You guessed it—-that the funding pared away over the years be restored both for higher education and K-12. Whether a Legislature noted for its parsimony goes along remains to be seen.

A real sign that the board has finally obtained a modicum of common sense would be for it to end its search for a new University of Idaho president and confirm the acting president, Law School Dean Don Burnett, as the next president.

A Pocatello native, the Harvard-educated Burnett makes a fine president and the board won’t find anyone better. Furthermore, the board should end all efforts to build a new residence for the new president. Don’t hold your breath, however. The board has proven time and again to have a tin ear when it comes to anything smart or reflective of forward educational thinking.

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