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No 'A' grade for Arkansas schools in college rankings

Social mobility focus, compiler says by Jaime Adame | August 31, 2021 at 7:05 a.m.
University of Arkansas students walk past Old Main on the U of A campus in Fayetteville in this 2014 photo.

Colleges in the state fared poorly in a ranking of national universities published Monday that factored in the number of degrees awarded to low-income students.

Arkansas State University ranked 280th to lead all schools in the state considered for Washington Monthly's national university rankings. The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville ranked No. 281.

The list this year included five Arkansas colleges considered by the publication as national universities based on having awarded a "significant" number of doctoral degrees. The University of Central Arkansas ranked 299th, the private Harding University ranked 339th, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock ranked 376th.

The rankings aim to put a focus on social mobility, research and public service, according to the publication's website. A total of 391 national universities were ranked.

"I would be most concerned about how the universities score poorly on social mobility," said Robert Kelchen, data editor for the rankings and a professor of education at the University of Tennessee.

Enrolling and graduating large numbers of students from lower- or middle-income families leads to social mobility, Kelchen said.

"It's key to the mission of higher education, because helping students with modest means succeed is what helps the state move forward," Kelchen said.

Each of the six states that border Arkansas had at least one public university ranked higher than an Arkansas school in the Washington Monthly magazine's national university rankings. Two border states, Texas and Missouri, had one or more universities in the top 50 of the rankings.

Three other border states -- Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana -- had at least one public university ranked between 100th and 200th, while Mississippi's top-ranked public university, Jackson State, ranked No. 236.

Kelly Damphousse, chancellor for Arkansas State University, in a statement said the Jonesboro campus is committed to helping students.

"Instead of chasing the criteria that outsiders have devised, A-State has kept its focus on the things we think are important," Damphousse said, adding that the university has boosted its student retention and graduation rates, which he said are "higher than they have ever been."

ASU had a six-year graduation rate of 53% for full-time, first-time students who enrolled in fall 2014, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Washington Monthly overall ranking included separate rankings specifically for social mobility, with UA-Fayetteville, at No. 291, the highest-ranked Arkansas national university.

Criteria factored in the rankings included an eight-year graduation rate for all students, as well as data related to students receiving Pell grants, a form of federal financial aid for students with exceptional need.

For example, the criteria included a comparison of graduation rates between "Pell and non-Pell" students to study the gap between the two rates.

Mark Rushing, a spokesman for UA-Fayetteville, declined to comment on the Washington Monthly rankings or respond to a question about why the university ranked lower than some similar universities in nearby states.

In the overall rankings, Texas A&M University ranked 21st, the University of Missouri ranked 46th, the University of Tennessee ranked 106th, Louisiana State University ranked 162nd and the University of Mississippi ranked 257th.

Among other schools in the Southeastern Conference, UA-Fayetteville ranked higher than Mississippi State University, No. 295, and the University of Alabama, No. 302.

"We're not too familiar with this publication's ranking or the specific methodology used and we wouldn't care to speculate," Rushing said in an email.

Jeff Harmon, a spokesman for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said that university was reviewing the rankings and methodology.

But Harmon pointed out that UALR ranked tops in the state in the category of social mobility in national university rankings published last September by U.S. News & World Report.

In those U.S. News rankings, UALR was tied for 191st among public and private universities, while in the Washington Monthly rankings UALR ranked 372nd.

Some other Arkansas schools were ranked separately by Washington Monthly as bachelor's colleges, master's universities or liberal arts colleges.

In overall rankings for master's colleges, John Brown University, a private Christian college in Siloam Springs, ranked 271st out of 616 schools.

Print Headline: No 'A' grade for Arkansas schools in college rankings

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