From the Dean
      Perhaps it is due to our evolutionary heritage, but competition seems like a basic, natural instinct among humans. It can be argued that the enormous success the United States enjoys in various sectors among nations is fueled by this competitive spirit. "We're No. 1" is the rallying cry in America for everything from basketball teams to the armed services. Even in the ivory tower of academe, competition among American research universities for academic honors has intensified since the appearance of widely publicized rankings and ratings.

The Dean
      Considering the controversy over rankings of college football teams (the Associated Press Poll, the Coaches Poll, Sagarin, and the BCS Poll do not always agree), it should come as no surprise that academic ranking of universities is the subject of much dispute. The primary criticism of many of the ratings is that they place too much weight on input parameters and do not measure educational outcomes of students. For instance, Indiana University Bloomington, consistent with its commitment to access and because of state support, admits all Hoosier applicants who graduate in the top 50 percent of their high school class. As a result, IUB will not rate very high in any ranking of colleges that takes student SATs and class ranks into account. Likewise, the absence of engineering and medicine on the IUB campus affects its position in rankings that emphasize the amount of research grant monies. It is notable that one rating based on outcomes - specifically that of student retention - done by Time magazine (Sept. 10, 2001) ranked IUB No. 1 among research universities!

      Do published rankings matter to a university? Validity aside, every institution would rather be high on the list than low! First, there is the psychological effect of belonging to an elite organization, of everyone wanting to be associated with a winner. Any university that wants to be a contender in the undergraduate "marketplace" at the national level has to be ranked quite high in the national rankings sweepstakes. To be fair, there is some degree of correlation between quality and long-term reputation. In the final analysis, though, what matters most to a university is its reputation among peers. This affects the institution's ability to hire and retain outstanding faculty, which in turn determines its future standing.

      What are some direct financial consequences of intensified competition among universities? Predictably, the cost of maintaining high quality and high ranking is steadily escalating. High quality undergraduates are looking for the best scholarship packages. Top-rated graduate students are being lured with ever-increasing, multi-year fellowship deals. Well-established research faculty are being raided away with lucrative deals involving high salaries, endowments, research funds, and even reduced teaching responsibilities. The pinch is particularly painful for leading public universities like IU, because they must cope with decreasing state funding while competing with the growing endowments of elite private universities.

      Not all consequences are negative, of course. There is a tendency toward inertia and complacency in large and complex institutions, and the heightened competition in the educational marketplace today has made universities much more efficient and more open to change. Without question, students have benefited considerably from higher quality faculty, improved pedagogy, and greater attention to the quality of student life on campus.

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