U.S. News: Carolina a Consistent Fifth

For the seventh year in a row, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Carolina the nation’s fifth best public university. It is tied for 28th in the list that includes the private schools. The top five publics — Cal-Berkeley, Michigan, Virginia and UCLA — have remained unchanged for those seven years, and Berkeley is again ranked first.

UNC ranked first among public campuses for the third consecutive year in the magazine’s “Great Schools, Great Prices” list, based on academic quality and the net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of need-based financial aid. UNC was ninth in this ranking overall for the second straight year.

The new rankings appear in the 2008 “America’s Best Colleges” guidebook and are posted online. The Aug. 27 edition of the magazine and the guidebook will be on newsstands Aug. 20.

The rankings formula factors in responses to opinion surveys about academic quality from peer campus presidents, provosts or admissions officials. Objective data covers areas such as student graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

Carolina took a tumble in one of the ranking’s key measures — faculty resources. UNC climbed to 40th last year after having been as low as 71st. But it slid to 50th this time. Chancellor James Moeser, who said this area is the University’s top priority, said the ranking does not fully take into account the past two years of significant progress with faculty compensation.

The N.C. General Assembly has approved major appropriations to help support faculty salaries, he said. Combined with revenue generated by campus-based tuition increases, the University will award significant raises to faculty this fall for the second year in a row. Last year, more than 3,100 faculty received salary increases averaging about 7.1 percent.

Faculty compensation, including salary and benefits, accounts for 35 percent of the total faculty resources score in the U.S. News analysis, using 2005-06 and 2006-07 data compiled by a consultant and adjusted for regional differences. In this category, the magazine also examined class size (fewer than 20 students and 50 students or more); proportion of full-time faculty and with the highest degree in their field; and student-faculty ratio.

Class size is another key UNC benchmark that figures into the U.S. News rankings in the faculty resources category. In 2006, 47 percent of UNC’s course sections enrolled fewer than 20 students. That was fourth among the five major publics. Only 11 percent of UNC course sections enrolled 50 or more students, the same as last year and first among the five leading publics.

UNC ranked 14th among publics for “least debt” and 22nd overall. The magazine listed average student debt at UNC at $14,487 in 2006, with only 34 percent of graduating seniors borrowing.

“Making a Carolina education available to qualified students regardless of their financial means is a major priority for us,” Moeser said. “This U.S. News  analysis tracks with the positive results we have seen from the Carolina Covenant and an excellent overall financial aid program.”

This fall, UNC enrolls its fourth class of Carolina Covenant Scholars through the Carolina Covenant, which guarantees a debt-free education to qualified low-income students. The program has been the model for more than 40 similar initiatives across the country. Other publications, including Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, have ranked Carolina the best value in American public higher education in part because of the Carolina Covenant.

Carolina also meets the full need of middle-income students who apply on time, with financial aid packages made up of two-thirds grants and scholarships and one-third loans and work-study. (Aid packages at many public universities are closer to one-half loans and one-half grants.)

Since 1999, when UNC enacted a campus-based tuition increase, 35 percent of that revenue has been dedicated to providing grants for every needy student that covered the cost of a campus tuition hike.

In other U.S. News rankings, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School tied for fifth with New York University among undergraduate business degree programs. Kenan-Flagler was third overall among publics. In specialty areas, Kenan-Flagler was fourth for both management and marketing.

U.S. News also included Carolina in a category called “programs to look for,” highlighting outstanding academic programs that lead to student success. UNC was among 40 schools listed for first-year experiences programs, which include first-year seminars and other programs bringing small groups of students with faculty and staff on a regular basis. UNC was among 22 public campuses selected for this list. The University also was among a group of public and private campuses that U.S. News  praised for offering innovative opportunities for undergraduates to become involved in research and creative projects.

The annual rankings release was greeted with the news that 62 college presidents had signed a letter asking their colleagues not to fill out the U.S. News  survey about reputations of their peers, which figures into the rankings. The dissent came primarily from small universities and liberal arts schools, none of them from North Carolina.

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