Business: Is Corporate America Trying to Drive a Message Home to Academia?

The academic community appears is getting increased attention from Corporate America.  In 2008 a large technically focused business and a respected business magazine have both made an effort to make a statement to academia about what they value.

In 2008 Boeing distributed its ranking and critiques of 150 engineering departments based on the performance of their graduates at the corporation to the universities and colleges privately.  Why privately?  Apparently many of the deans of the engineering programs and institutions didn’t want the information to be public and Boeing acquiesced.  Why would the deans of these engineering programs be so sensitive to this particular ranking when others such as those by News and World Report are already available?  The answer is suggested by a statement in the Chronicle of Higher Education article  “Boeing to Rank Colleges by Measuring Graduates’ Job Success”, September 19, 2008.

“…some lesser-known institutions will be revealed as having done an  “excellent” job of producing high-performing Boeing engineers, Mr. Stephens said, without identifying any such colleges ahead of their expected notification.”

Of the “colleges receiving Boeing’s employee analysis, said Ms. Oldham, who was executive director of the Spellings Commission, “it’s exactly what they would want to know about how well they are preparing their students to go out into the business world.”

If this is the case then it is reasonable to expect that there were a number of other surprises in the rankings.  Although the deans surely prized the information it is apparent that they didn’t want to be held accountable to the public for the results.  Their need for secrecy suggests that a number of engineering programs are not meeting the expectations of the students and parents that invested in them.

In addition Forbes, a respected business magazine, inaugurated a new college ranking report in 2008.  Its ranking has a decidely business approach.  Here is a quote describing its rationale and the method used to rank the colleges.

“In conjunction with Dr. Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Forbes.com inaugurates its first ranking of America’s Best Colleges, an annual list. In this report, the CCAP ranks 569 undergraduate institutions based on the quality of the education they provide, and how much their students achieve.

The best school in the nation? Princeton University, followed closely by the California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Swarthmore and Williams. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point came in sixth on our rankings, spearheading a generally strong showing by all the service academies.

Top 50 U.S. Colleges
Top Private Colleges
Top Public Colleges
Complete College Rankings

CCAP’s methodology attempts to put itself in a student’s shoes. How good will my professors be? Will the school help me achieve notable career success? If I have to borrow to pay for college, how deeply will I go into debt? What are the chances I will graduate in four years? Are students and faculty recognized nationally, or even globally?”

Granted ranking universities and colleges is a tricky process which is full of potential pitfalls.  For instance this particular  ranking is limited to 569  of the 4000 colleges in the U.S.   However the U.S. News and World rankings use the opinion of  Academic Deans as one of the basis for their ranking.  The choice of resources and the methodology used to create the rankings by Dr. Vedder and his student researchers appears to be fair.   They reflect the type of customer oriented information that can help consumers to make an educated decision.  Institutions could help the consumer in this process if they published student outcomes statistics of their own.  Some for-profits, for instance, do publish their graduates success rates at obtaining a job. However until that changes it appears that the public will have to do with indirect measures and their own gut feelings about an engineering program and a university.

Forbes College and University Rankings 2008

Some interesting surprises occurred this year.

Forbes College and University Rankings 2009

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