Students & Parents | General Education

Ratings groups give UA mixed marks

August 21, 2009 by Tracie Dungan

FAYETTEVILLE—The University of Arkansas was in a sixway tie for 128th on U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of “best national universities” but fared better on an upstart rankings list that focuses on core curriculum.

The annual rankings list was part of America’s Best Colleges, a report released early Thursday morning.

The best national universities section evaluated 260 public and private universities. The Fayetteville campus was the only Arkansas school that offers enough doctoral degrees and recruits enough students outside its home state to make the national universities list. UA tied with five other schools—including the University of Kentucky and Louisiana State University.

The survey now breaks out a “Top 50” public national universities ranking, but UA did not make that list.

The U.S. News survey is one of a number that rank higher education schools, and while it is arguably the most well-known, in recent years it has enjoyed more of a love-hate relationship with university leaders.

For instance, in October 2007, the Albany Times Union reported that Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., had joined “an expanding list of schools that are boycotting the `beauty contest’ section of U.S. News’ rankings.” The newspaper was referring to the “peer assessment” score, which accounts for 25 percent of a school’s overall score, the highest weight among seven categories. For national schools, student retention counts for only 20 percent and graduation-rate performance is weighted at 5 percent.

For an Arkansas student shopping only for in-state schools, it would take extra effort to compare Arkansas schools in the different scoring categories. All but UA are on lists that rank them regionally rather than nationally, depending on whether they made the master’s degree list, baccalaureate list, or others, so there is no comparison of the Arkansas schools alone.

On Wednesday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released its own report card to point out what it says the U.S. News list lacks. Its Web site is

“There is one important thing that no one has looked at—namely, education,” council spokesman David Azerrad said Thursday. UA-Fayetteville was one of only five schools to receive an “A” on the council’s report, which grades schools on whether their general core curriculum requires students to take courses in seven areas: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science.

The Fayetteville campus required all but the economics, which only two out of the 100 schools scored required, he said.

“Paying a lot doesn’t necessarily get you a lot,” the council’s report concluded.

Average tuition at the 11 schools that scored an “F” for mandating none of the seven subjects was $37,700. That compared with an average cost for the five schools earning an “A” – including UA – of $5,400, Azerrad said.

The Washington-based council describes itself as an independent, nonprofit founded in 1995 that dedicates itself to academic freedom, academic excellence and accountability.

“There are certain subjects that educated persons cannot do without,” Azerrad said. “Hats off to the University of Arkansas for having a strong curriculum.”


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