NRC Identifies Multiple Strengths in U.Va. Doctoral Programs

UPDATE
April 25, 2011 — The National Research Council on April 15, 2011, released revised rankings of doctoral programs. According to Inside Higher Ed, the council issued a statement "saying that overall rankings won't change significantly for most programs. But the rankings for some programs in some of the categories used for the overall rankings could see real shifts. And that's important because the NRC has said from the start that it is the data sets themselves – not just the overall rankings – that should be used to examine programs."

Most of the University of Virginia's programs experienced no or small changes, but some ranking dimensions changed by more than 10 percent. The revised data are available here.

September 28, 2010 — The long-awaited assessment of doctoral programs by the National Research Council, released today, shows a balanced distribution of high-quality scholarship within several schools at the University of Virginia.

The NRC study examined more than 5,000 doctoral programs in 62 fields at 212 institutions of higher education across the U.S. According to the NRC, which is part of the National Academies, the purpose of the assessment is to "help universities improve the quality of programs through benchmarking; provide potential students and the public with accessible, readily available information on doctoral programs nationwide; and enhance the nation's overall research capacity."

"We have excellence in overall program quality across the schools of U.Va., demonstrating a real opportunity for collaboration among programs," Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., , said.

Based on data gathered by the NRC in 2006, the assessment uses variables such as publications per faculty member, citations per publication and student completion rates to create five distinct rankings – two overall rankings and three that illuminate dimensions of doctoral programs. Unlike other academic rankings that assign specific ranks to programs, the NRC assigned a broad range of scores to individual programs.

Nearly a third of the participating U.Va. programs were assigned ranges that reached, on one of the two overall rankings, as high as the top 10: , English, religious studies and Spanish in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences; kinesiology in the Curry School of Education; the Ph.D. program in the School of Nursing; microbiology, pharmacology and physiology in the School of Medicine; systems engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science; and biomedical engineering, which spans the schools of Medicine and Engineering. Many of these programs also received high marks for research activity.

Humanities and social sciences, traditional U.Va. strengths, also showed depth in the NRC assessment. Of the 11 programs ranked, five – English, French, German, religious studies and Spanish – reached into the top-15 range.

Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research, noted that 12 of 24 science, engineering and mathematics programs demonstrate high levels of research activity – a key ingredient of the NRC formula. "five of eight programs in the School of Medicine, six of nine Engineering School programs and two of the eight science and math programs in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences spanned into the top 15 percent of performers, or better," he said. "These are among the focal points of the University's strategic growth efforts."
 
Garson said the NRC assessment provides an opportunity to highlight the importance of graduate education and research. "Graduate education develops the next generation of scholars, researchers, leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs," he said. In addition, he noted that research and graduate education enhance national competitiveness by fostering economic growth and providing a skilled workforce across numerous sectors, including academia and industry. "Americans' lives are improved through the research that occurs in universities across the United States," he said.

Skalak said the assessment compiles a significant amount of publicly available information about U.Va. doctoral programs and those across the United States. "When combined with institutional vision and the strategies of each of our schools, it can be used to inform decision-making about the University's academic programs as we continue to enhance research and innovation."

More than 800 U.Va. faculty and 300 U.Va. doctoral students received questionnaires, and 39 U.Va. programs participated.

In a press release, the NRC said it hopes to repeat the assessment every two years.

The full results, along with a detailed description of the methodology, can be found on the National Academies website.

 available onlineexecutive vice president and provostastronomy