Wednesday, October 06, 2010

UC Ph.D. programs rank high in National Research Council report

University of California doctoral programs rank among the best in the nation in a National Research Council report that universities consider the gold-standard assessment of Ph.D. studies. In its first comprehensive evaluation of university doctoral programs since 1995, the NRC reviewed 322 UC programs in science, math, engineering, social sciences and humanities.

In the report, released today (Sept. 28), 141 UC programs were ranked among the top 10 in their fields across a wide range of measures used by the NRC to assess quality.

"I am very proud UC campuses fare so well in these distinguished rankings," said UC President Mark Yudof. "It is clear that the University of California dominates in excellence across a wide range of disciplines. This performance is a function of our outstanding faculty and researchers, talented graduate students, and a diverse and gifted staff and student body."

The NRC, along with the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, make up the National Academies, which provide independent science, health and technology policy advice to the U.S. government. The NRC's periodic rankings of American doctoral programs are highly respected among academic institutions.

Program improvement and student guide

The assessment, according to the NRC, is designed to help universities improve the quality of their programs and to provide prospective graduate students with information to help them decide which programs may suit them best.

"The NRC and other ranking tools attest to the fact that UC is the finest public research university system in the nation, if not the world, and that we cannot let the threat of economic uncertainty diminish us in any way," said Yudof.

The new NRC report differs greatly from its previous version in 1995. That report was based mostly on a reputational assessment, with faculty across the United States rating each program, and it provided a top-to-bottom ranking of programs. The 2010 NRC version relies on data from 2005-06, collected from faculty and students. The report uses 20 different variables to rank programs, including research publications by faculty, percentage of students receiving financial support and their time to degree, and student and faculty diversity.

The NRC doesn't list a "best" program, but instead provides several ranges of rankings in which individual programs are likely to fall. A range, for example, can be second best to 12th best in the country.

Overall, the NRC ranked more than 5,000 doctoral programs at 212 U.S. universities.

Top of the class

At nine UC campuses, doctoral programs ranked at the top of their fields. UC's newest campus, UC Merced, was not included because data were collected in 2005-06, before its doctoral programs were fully established.

"The new NRC assessment validates what we and others who evaluate and rank programs have found about the excellence and quality of our graduate programs," said Steven Beckwith, UC vice president for research and graduate studies.

The NRC report is consistent with other recent findings about UC's graduate programs. A UC Office of the President's accountability report, which Beckwith recently presented to the UC Regents, highlighted the following:

  • In 2009, UC enrolled 26,117 doctoral students at its 10 campuses.
  • As the public institution with primary responsibility for granting doctoral degrees in California, UC awarded 63 percent of all academic doctoral degrees in the state. California led the nation with 5,923 doctorates awarded in 2007-08.
  • UC awarded 3,500 Ph.D.s a year — 7 percent of the nation's doctoral degrees.
  • In 2009, UC had 7 percent of all the graduate students in the United States, but they won 20 to 30 percent of the most competitive and prestigious fellowships in science, arts and humanities.

"Graduate students play an important role in conducting the research," said Beckwith. "They spark ideas, make discoveries, enrich the arts and work to solve some of society's most pressing problems as they push at the cutting edge of knowledge. They also play a key role in attracting and retaining faculty. Many of our top faculty come to UC because of the outstanding graduate students."

And the faculty themselves, he noted, are distinguished by the top awards and honors they consistently receive.

In the 2009 and 2010 classes elected to the National Academy of Sciences, for example, 66 of the 144 new members came from public universities, and 39 of these were from UC. "Put another way, more than half of the honored scientists from public universities teach and do research at UC," said Beckwith.

The full Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States report is available online.

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