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The US News and World Report, Teaching Quality in Rankings: What it Means for Parents

The following article provides information on the US News and World Report Rankings, more specifically "teaching quality"….

The criteria used in college application decisions vary. Status, size, location, fields of study, cost, and social life are considered. Too often, the most important college mission, teaching, is overlooked or misunderstood. Strong teaching is a pre-condition for picking up the skills necessary for the job market and graduate/professional studies. Teaching quality has diminished nationally as cost-cutting proliferates and faculty research obligations escalate. Strong teaching is not in the eyes of the beholder, however. Students and parents should take into account the following factors as a package, and not in isolation from one another, when they evaluate teaching.  With the exception of number six, they can be found in US News and World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” edition.

1.  The Undergraduate Academic Reputation of an Institution

This US News and World Report peer assessment index measuring a school’s academic reputation solicits the opinions of presidents, provosts, and deans of admission. For national universities and national liberal arts colleges, public school counselors are also surveyed. There are more specific indicators of teaching quality, however.

2.  Whether a School is Financially Sound

    A strong institutional financial foundation doesn’t guarantee strong teaching, but it is necessary for it. Schools cannot hire and retain strong full-time tenure track and tenured faculty without financial resources.  Class size can also be influenced by financial status, though this is a trickier issue as I will soon explain. Fiscal strength often correlates to US News and World Report ratings. A school’s “financial resources rank” is worthy of scrutiny. “Average alumni giving rates” included in the ratings provide a picture of the financial health of small national liberal arts colleges who depend more in alumni loyalty than their research university counterparts. For research universities, grants and investments are often their bread and butter.

3. Class Size

   Smaller classes facilitate more individualized faculty attention.  In larger classes, students can fall through the cracks and in research universities they are often evaluated and even taught by teaching assistants barely older than themselves. Take US News and World Report “student/faculty ratios” with a grain of salt since at research universities there can be non-teaching faculty. The “percentage of classes under 20 students and over 50 students” can be revealing, however.

4. Percentage of Faculty Who Are Full-Time  

   Many have heard stories of indifferent full-time faculty. Nonetheless, a school’s commitment to undergraduates is, in part, reflected in this US News and World Report category. Part-time faculty can be less accountable to institutions and students than those who are full-time.

5. The Percentage of Freshmen in Top 10% of High School Class and the Acceptance Rate

   Classes will be better if your peers are stronger. Lectures and discussions can be more sophisticated and interaction both inside and outside of class more rewarding.

6. The Quality of Teaching in the Student’s Areas of Academic Interest 

   Even when an institution’s overall academic reputation is respectable and other dimensions of teaching quality are positive, there can be departmental variations. The proactive student and family will visit a school, identify departmental faculty representatives, and pose questions on class size and full-time faculty percentages as well as offerings and services. If an institution highlights an individual professor on your visit, he/she should not be considered representative. Moreover, if  a department is unresponsive to your inquiries, it’s time to move on.

   Teaching skills are as crucial to your undergraduate experience as medical skills are to a patient. You can make it the focus of your undergraduate search!

 David Dickson

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For more information on college admissions counseling, or if you're a parent who needs help with your son or daughter college applications, call Top Test Prep at (800) 501-7737.

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