Public Release: 

University quality not tied to public/private structure, governance

University of Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Public universities backed by state support increasingly compete with their private research counterparts that have large private endowments, according to a study released today by a group University of Florida researchers.

The group also found the system by which a school is governed makes little difference in the quality of a research institution according to findings in "The Top American Research Universities," an analysis of more than 600 institutions nationwide conducted by The Center for Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences at UF.

TheCenter's third annual report documents comparative resources available to public and private institutions in their competition for research funding and quality students. It also provides new data on competitiveness that identifies the highest-performing research universities in the United States. In order to develop the report, researchers collect data to categorize the competitive performance of research universities using nine key measures of research quality.

"This study serves as a standard source of information for college and university research performance," said Diane Craig, TheCenter's research director. "The study analyzes the data that is publicly available, validates it, and delivers it in an easily accessible and usable form."

Craig said she was surprised this year's study found that differences in public university governing systems generally do not predict an institution's competitive quality. The researchers expected institutions that have individual governing bodies to perform substantially better than schools that share a board with other campuses, but Craig said high- and low-performing institutions exist under all governing structures.

"We found that it doesn't matter what kind of governance you have, whether it is a single board for a single institution, or a single board for multiple institutions with or without a local board," she said. "There are good universities in every type of system."

To analyze universities, TheCenter uses information collected from a variety of agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the individual institutions themselves, to provide data on nine indicators: total research expenditures, federal research expenditures, endowment assets, amount of annual private contributions, number of faculty who are members of The National Academies, number of significant faculty awards, number of doctorates granted, number of postdoctoral appointees and average SAT scores.

The top category of research universities includes institutions ranking among the top 25 in each of the nine criteria. This year, only Stanford, Harvard and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology rank in the top tier. The second tier comprises universities that meet eight of the nine indicators, and so on. In the second tier, three of the seven institutions are public: The University of California-Berkeley, The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

The researchers break down large university systems, such as those in California and New York, in order to analyze individual schools at the campus level because "the competition for research and student talent is primarily conducted at the campus level," Craig said. "Comparing large university systems like California to individual universities like Michigan offer little useful information." Robert J. Morse, the lead researcher for the popular U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings, said TheCenter's results are useful to administrators and researchers and are not meant to replace or compete with U.S. News' rankings.

"Their study helps to understand research prowess, whereas ours generally seeks to give prospective undergraduate college students and their parents advice," Morse said.

Craig agrees, saying The Center's study is directed at graduate researchers and university administrators. Universities need a reliable measure of the competition for talent and good indicators of their comparative performance against other research universities, she said. This helps them understand the long-term changes that affect their competitiveness, and it helps them design programs for improving their performance.

"We are now in our third year of tracking this information, which gives universities the chance to measure their performance over time," Craig said. In comparison to other ranking formulas, change appears to occur more slowly in the performance measures tracked by UF, she said, "which is why some of the popular school ranking systems are misleading."


Craig collaborated with John V. Lombardi, former UF president and current University of Massachusetts-Amherst chancellor; Elizabeth Capaldi, former UF provost and current State University of New York at Buffalo provost; and Denise Gater of UF's Office of Institutional Research.

The full report is available online at

Writer: Kate Palmer
Source: Diane Craig

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