USC Keeps High Ranking, U.S. News Says

Latest nationwide U.S. News & World Report collegiate poll helps illustrate continued institutional progress.
By James Grant
USC was named among the nation’s best values in higher education, according to the magazine's 2008 poll.

Photo/Philip Channing
The recent U.S. News & World Report collegiate rankings reflect a continuation of USC’s rise in academic quality since the tenure of President Steven B. Sample began in 1991.

USC has now been among the nation’s top 30 universities for five consecutive years, and was just ranked No. 27 in the 2008 U.S. News “America’s Best Colleges and Universities” edition.

The university’s rise from No. 41 in 1999 to No. 27 in 2008 is one of the largest-magnitude and fastest improvements by an institution in this ranking since the poll began in the early 1980s.

Although university officials note that each ranking has its limitations and that USC’s strategic plan is driven by academic values and concrete and sustainable goals not outsider rankings the U.S. News poll revealed this month provides a snapshot of an institution on the move.

“Over time, the U.S. News and other rankings mirror the continual improvement in overall academic quality at USC, said Barry Glassner, executive vice provost. “This latest ranking also reveals other intriguing details about the true contemporary story of USC and gains that resulted from the vision outlined by President Sample and Provost C. L. Max Nikias.

“These advances can be seen in several indicators: such as how positively our colleagues in academe view our programs, how the undergraduate program’s increased strength has reinforced other strengths of the institution and how the diversity we seek to achieve in our community puts us among the nation’s leaders.”

One important component of the overall U.S. News ranking is an institution’s reputation as judged by academic peers. To collect this measure, the magazine surveys presidents, provosts and deans of admission across the nation. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being highest, USC now scores 4.0 in this category up from 3.6 in 1999.

Another indicator graduation and retention rate provides a general measure of student achievement and positive learning environment. At USC, this figure has been steadily rising from No. 69 nationally in 1999 to No. 35 nationally in this year’s ranking. In admissions selectivity, USC’s rise has been dramatic: In 1999, the university ranked 54th by this measure in U.S. News. The 2008 edition reported a selectivity ranking of 19th nationally for the university.

USC prides itself on the inclusiveness of the Trojan Family. The diversity of the undergraduate program excluding international student population puts USC at No. 8 nationally.

Another measure of academic quality student-faculty ratio has also improved. Today’s student-faculty ratio of 10-1 is comparable to highly selective institutions nationwide and has led to the ability of USC to offer undergraduates a small-college feel within the breadth of offerings of a major research university.

As a private institution, USC must forego government subsidies on tuition. Still, the latest U.S. News ranking named USC among the nation’s best values in higher education. Based on a variety of measures of tuition, financial aid packages and value returned, the magazine ranked USC as No. 34 in this category.

Glassner said what’s important to remember about this and other rankings is that institutional change and advancement in the academic setting is very unusual. “Only a handful of universities and colleges have broken into the nation’s elite echelons in the past decade. USC is one of them because faculty, staff, students and friends all endorsed President Sample’s and Provost Nikias’ vision and implemented it vigorously.”