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story.lead_photo.caption Kassandra Salazar (left), a sophomore at the University of Arkansas from Rogers, speaks Tuesday, April 5, 2016, to a group of 11th-grade students from Heritage High School in Rogers as they walk past Old Main while on a tour of the university campus in Fayetteville. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville saw its ranking increase by six slots to a tie for 72nd among 146 "top public schools" in U.S. News & World Report rankings published today.

The annual rankings aim to measure academic quality by comparing data between schools, such as the average college entrance exam scores of admitted students, student-faculty ratios and graduation rates.

"That's real progress in the ranking among public universities," Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said in a statement, citing improvement in the school's graduation rate and also gains in peer assessment.

UA-Fayetteville's rise in the latest rankings follows a drop of 15 spots last year compared with similar public universities.

Last year, Steinmetz said the slide could be explained in part because of a change in rankings methodology to evaluate the retention of students receiving Pell grants, a form of federal aid for students with exceptional need.

The most recent university data show an uptick in the six-year graduation rate for students receiving Pell grants and Stafford loans, but also a gap of about 15 percentage points in graduation rates for that group compared with the overall student body.

Steinmetz described an improvement in the overall graduation rate relative to what U.S. News calls its predicted rate, which is based on factors such as the proportion of students awarded Pell grants and school spending per student.

"Student success is our top priority, and increasing retention and graduation rates is core to that mission, as it benefits our students and our state," Steinmetz said.

UA-Fayetteville's most recent six-year graduation rate of 65.5%, based on a cohort of 4,550 students, remained below the predicted rate of 67%, according to university and U.S. News data. But in last year's rankings, UA-Fayetteville's actual graduation rate lagged 8% behind the publication's predicted rate, Steinmetz said, calling the decreasing gap "the number that pleases me the most."

UA-Fayetteville's ranking put it in a tie with Louisiana State University, the University of Alabama, and George Mason University, located in Virginia, among public schools also considered national universities.

Princeton University, located in New Jersey, ranked as the top national university. UCLA, ranked 20th nationally, topped the ranking of public schools considered national universities.

UA-Fayetteville ranked 153rd in a tie with eight other schools among all national universities, down a spot from last year. Steinmetz said dozens more schools were designated national universities, many of them private institutions that "tend to fare better in these rankings." The designation is based on the Carnegie Classification of schools.

In nearby states, in the "top public schools" ranking, Texas A&M University ranked in a tie for 27th, down three spots from last year; the University of Tennessee in a tie for 44th, up eight spots; the University of Kansas at 59th, up two spots; the University of Oklahoma tied for 60th, down two spots; the University of Missouri tied 64th, down three spots; and the University of Mississippi in a tie for 76th, up two spots.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University ranked between 293rd and 381st among public and private national universities.

In other categories, Hendrix College ranked in a tie for 92nd among national liberal arts colleges, a group consisting of 215 schools.

John Brown University ranked in a tie for 11th among public and private regional universities in the south. Arkansas Tech University tied for 75th in the same category.

Student outcomes made up the largest factor in the U.S. News & World Report ranking, weighted at 35%.

Other weighted factors were: faculty resources (20%); "expert opinion" based on surveys (20%); financial resources, defined as per-student spending on education-related expenditures (10%); "student excellence," a measure that includes scores on college entrance exams (10%); and alumni giving (5%).

Steinmetz said UA-Fayetteville's peer assessment score increased "to an all-time high." UA-Fayetteville received a 3.0 assessment score.

The ranking methodology also includes "social mobility" as a component of student outcomes. The term describes the degree to which an individual or group can change socioeconomic position.

U.S. News & World Report also released a "social mobility rank" tied to the graduation rates of students with Pell grants and also how their graduation rates compared with other students not receiving Pell aid, with more credit to schools having higher proportions of students awarded Pell grants.

The most recent published six-year grad rates by UA-Fayetteville show a cohort of 704 students receiving both Stafford and Pell federal aid with a six-year graduation rate of 49.1%, up from the 42.3% grad rate for the previous cohort consisting of 705 students, but below the 65.5% grad rate for all students.

UA-Fayetteville's social mobility ranking was 370th, with several public universities in nearby states receiving similar rankings in the mid-300s. In the same category, Arkansas State University ranked in a tie for 119th, the highest of any Arkansas school considered a national university.

Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, said the U.S. News social mobility ranking is based on "two measures that aren't bad measures to include." Other factors that could be considered in different rankings might be student loan repayment rates and gaps in graduation rates for different gender or racial groups, he said.

More rankings factor in some measure of social mobility, in part because more data are available, Kelchen said.

"Then, also, there's this broader concern about college affordability,"said Kelchen, data editor for a set of college rankings published by Washington Monthly magazine.

Universities in southeastern states rank lower in social mobility in part because of "large divides in K-12 school preparation and school funding."

Colleges in the region "could still certainly do better," Kelchen said, adding that schools should be asked if they are "trying to reach out to students" from across the state, as well as how they are providing institutional financial aid dollars to students.

Estimated data voluntarily provided by schools for what is known as the Common Data Set show that UA-Fayetteville in the 2017-18 academic year -- the most recent year with published data available -- awarded about $18.5 million in non-need based aid to students compared with about $13.2 million in need-based aid.

"Financial hardship is a top barrier to student success and is something that we are watching and actively working to improve," Steinmetz said.

Metro on 09/09/2019

Print Headline: UA up 6 spots in U.S. News college listing


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