Oregon colleges fail to make rankings

Oregon Fails to Place in Top 50 in Kiplinger’s Best Value in Public Colleges

It would appear that Oregon’s poor showing (49th ranking out of 50 states) in the recent Education Week Quality Counts 2008 for K -12 education extends into the arena of higher education as well. Kiplinger’s annual report of the Best Value in Public Colleges (in-state) does not have a single Oregon institution in the top 50. Not a single institution in the top 75. Not in the top 85. In fact, you have to get all the way to 86th before you can find an Oregon university (University of Oregon). There are no other Oregon universities that made the list.

Here is how they ranked the colleges and universities (in their own words):

+ Percentage of the 2006-07 freshman class scoring 600 or higher on the verbal and math components of the SAT (or scoring 24 or higher on the ACT)
+ Admission rates
+ Freshman retention rates
+ Student-faculty ratios

– Four- and six-year graduation rates, which most schools reported for the student cohort entering in 2000
Then we ranked each school based on cost and financial aid. We looked at:
– Total cost for in-state students (tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, and estimated expenses for books)
– Average cost for a student with need after subtracting grants (but not loans)
– Average cost for a student without need after subtracting non-need-based grants
– Average percentage of need met by aid (need-based assistance)
– Average debt a student accumulates before graduation

We were looking for schools that were academically strong as well as affordable, so in our scoring, academic quality carries more weight than costs (almost two-thirds of the total). We used academic-quality scores and average debt at graduation to break ties.

I only point this out to show that we could use some immediate corrective action in our state education system. We keep coming up on the short end in these national surveys performed by independent, non-political entities. Oregon can and should do better than 49th out of 50 and 86th out of 100.

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  • Britt Storkson

    That’s not suprising. Our education system now exists to benefit teachers and administrators, not students. Until we change that dynamic we will continue to be in the tank when it comes to academic performance.

  • eagle eye

    Oregon colleges not a best value? What do you expect? Oregon has starved the four-year colleges for decades. They have been in slow steady decline, and it shows. Among other things, spending per student especially at UO and OSU is rock-bottom compared to peers, but tuition is high, due to declinining share of state spending since 1990.

    The wonder is that Oregon has anything in the top 100. It’s a testimony to the still-respectable (but declining) academic quality of UO.

    Oregon has made it clear that it wants cut-rate higher education. It is getting what it wants and deserves. In fact, better than it deserves.

    • dean

      EE has it correct. Full and part-time faculty salaries at UO, OSU, and PSU are about as low as one can get nationally for publc universities. Count your blessings. These schools are held together by bailing wire and duct tape.

      Somehow Oregon still manages to rank in the middle of the pack in terms of the percent of our residents who college degrees, below our neighbors to the north and south, but far above the “red states” of the deep south (https://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/SAFFFacts). It could be we are attracting educated people rather than creating them though.

  • Karen

    So raises will make the faculty work harder?
    Or they’d be replaced with smarter staff?
    That seems like a put down of the current faculty.
    I doubt they appreciate that.

    • retired UO science prof

      I retired recently from UO in one of the science departments and still continue to do sponsored (grant funded) research here, so maybe I can say something about this.

      It’s not a matter of replacing the current faculty and staff en masse but of gradually replacing those who retire, and retaining those who seek or are offered better jobs elsewhere. It will be very hard to keep a faculty as good as the ones we’ve got, let alone improve on them, as uncompetitive as the Oregon universities are. Especially UO and OSU are in pretty bad shape in this respect. I know of one science department at UO that made several offers on the national market last year and was turned down on all of them. And it’s not even clear that the best people bother to apply here any more.

      As for the faculty working harder — sure. Money is an incentive and low-ball salaries are a big turnoff, people know what’s going on, they become pretty cynical. Of course, they can always leave if they are that unhappy, and many do, but they can also hang around with flagging morale, especially if they have personal reasons to do so.

      So would they be insulted if salaries were brought up to competitive levels? I don’t think so, I think most of them would be thrilled.

  • rural resident

    Jerry, if you’re going to draw conclusions from data, at least pay close attention to what the data says. Kiplinger is ranking schools on VALUE, not academic excellence. Value includes two dimentions: price and quality. The 86th place ranking for the University of Oregon is for student debt at graduation. In other words, students at only 14 other schools on this list owe more money when they graduate than do those at the UO. It’s also 79th in the percentage of total cost met by student aid.

    What does this say? That Oregon’s relative investment in the Oregon University System is meager and that it doesn’t make much aid available to its prospective students.

    If you continue to sort the data, one would find that the UO actually does fairly well by several measures that are more related to quality and access. It ties for sixth in the percentage of students admitted, so it’s allowing almost everyone in who meets its somewhat challenging admission criteria. It’s faculty/student ratio is in the upper third (on the good side). It places in the upper half if both 4- and 6-year graduation rates. This is a testimonial to the perserverance of its underpaid professors (total compensation, including retirement benefits, are near the bottom of the rankings for state universities in the U. S.) and its somewhat financially-overwhelmed students.

    Given the relatively high cost and the lack of programs available within the OUS, expecting high rankings on VALUE is wildly unrealistic.

    If you’re trying to make the case for greater general fund budget appropriations for the OUS, however, the Kiplinger data are quite useful. That was what you were trying to say, wasn’t it?

    • dean

      RR…good analysis.

      Karen…I teach part time at UO and OSU. I can’t speak to the entire faculty, but those in the departments I teach in are very high quality, are very dedicated to their trade, and for the most part work hard. But there are 2 concerns you should have. First, the older teachers are basically “legacy” faculty. They were recruited and began their careers a a time when Oregon university pay was competetive nationally. They have now fallen well behind their peers, but since they are rooted here they tend to stay. Second, we are facing a lot of retirements and turnover over the next few years, meaning we now have to compete for the best and brightest young academic minds. Draw your own conclusions as to whether these will choose Oregon over other options.

      Yes…how much you are willing to pay matters, whether that is education, a nice dinner out, the car you drive, the house you live in, and so forth.

      • retired UO science prof

        dean, what you say sounds right. eagle eye and rural res too. The author may be right about Oregon universities not being a great value, but from my observation of the national higher education scene Oregon is getting a pretty good deal for the money it spends. Without the nice natural environment, UO and OSU would have fallen apart long ago.

        • Steve Plunk

          I have to question the pay issue. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of qualified PhD.s who would gladly come to Oregon and teach anywhere in the system for the money we pay. Now that may not include the “stars” in every field but the “stars” don’t always make the best teachers. That is what we are talking about, teaching undergrads. You can be stocked to the gills with prize winning researchers and writers but if they don’t teach the undergrads that will hardly have an effect on value.

          The minute we don’t have enough applicants for a vacant position is the minute we should start considering pay as an issue.

          Perhaps the problem is curriculum choices by department heads or requirements for degrees or even no problem at all, just some quirk in the formula for ranking the schools. I know I’m getting tired of every perceived problem as an opportunity for complaining about not enough money for the public sector.

          • UO science undergrad

            I am a UO undergard in chemistry and biology sitting right now in the science library. I can tell you that the best students who go to Oregon universities by and large go to where the research is, that’s UO and OSU in science.

            Most of the “stars” do teach undergraduates at least as part of their teaching assignments. I put “stars” in quotation marks because I know that UO no longer attracts that many of the real stars, even if they still hire in the national market. If they do hire someone who turns out to be a star, chances are that person will move on to some place that values them more after a few years.

            Having the research labs at the university, and the graduate programs, is incredibly valuable because it means the professors are real scientists, on top of their fields, not just teaching from textbooks or what they themselves learned in graduate school years and sometimes decades ago. Many of the undergrads here work in the research labs part time and that is an unbelievably good educational experience. It also makes a big difference when you are applying for graduate school or medical school if the professors writing letters for you have some kind of reputation as scientists.

            With your thinking Oregon would fall completely out of the national competition for faculty. UO is already having a very tough time. I understand that last year in chemistry they made several offers and all of them were turned down. Maybe that is the department that “retired prof” is referring to.

            There may be lots of applicants for each position but I am told that of that group, only a handful are people that look good enough on paper. Of those that get interviewed, a department is lucky to find one or two in a given area that they want to hire.

            You may think that Oregon could do well with the lowest faculty salaries in the country. It is already skirting the bottom at UO and OSU. I believe that your kind of thinking is what is plowing Oregon universities into the ground. It is a negative, destructive attitude that is holding the state back.

            Imagine if the Ducks no longer tried to get the best players because there is always somebody “qualified” who is ready to suit up and play. That is what you are saying about academics.

    • Jerry

      As stated clearly in the article above, they weighted academic quality 2/3 of the total. Apparently you had some difficulty figuring that out from your comments.

      Maybe you should re-read the article.

      Just a thought.

      • rural resident

        Again, let me point out that TWO dimensions are involved in value: price and quality. First, the fact that UO is listed *anywhere* in the top 100 out of the hundreds of state colleges and universities in the country says something positive about it.

        Second, the fact that UO places around the middle or higher when it comes to the “educational quality” measures (class size, percentage of 4- and 6-year graduates, etc.) gives the reader a clue about how POOR a job the State of Oregon does when it comes to supporting its universities and its college students.

        You have to look at all of the data, even the part that doesn’t support your viewpoint if you’re going to draw logical, supportable conclusions.

        • Jerry

          My only view was that Oregon could and should do better. That does not seem unreasonable to me.

  • Jack Roberts

    Tuition at Oregon universities is high. Part of the problem is that we have too many universities and we try to fund them equally, even though the University of Oregon and Oregon State are clearly the two premier institutions, with Portland State filling an intermediate role of an urban university that educates the largest number of students but with constraints that prevents them from ever reaching quite the same qualitative level of UO or OSU.

    The other universities serve to provide access to higher education throughout the state, but at what cost? The Kiplinger analysis suggests that by trying to be too many things to too many people, we are not providing the overall value that we should. The question is whether we have the wisdom and political courage as a state to address this.

    • dean

      Jack…a friend of mine is the head architect for all the Washington State University campuses. He tells me they are expanding like crazy, with sattelite campuses in Vancouver, Spokane, Pullman, and elsewhere started over the past few years.

      Why is Washington expanding their system, while as you suggest, Oregon should shrink ours, inspite of an ever growing population? Can’t we face the fact that we are not allocating enough resources for our colleges and universities? That does not preclude administrative cost savings, perhaps by affiliating our smaller systems better with the larger ones, i.e. folding Eastern into OSU, Western into PSU or UO, and so forth.

      My opinion is that we are slowly strangling ourselves by trying to be a low tax, southern conservative state while we live and compete in a liberal, intellectual, high tech, west coast world. We can’t live on past investments for much longer.

    • John Fairplay

      “Tuition at Oregon universities is high”

      This is a myth. The 2007-08 tuition at UO, for instance, is $6,174. This is the equivalent of working fewer than 800 hours per year at a minimum wage job.

  • Jack Roberts

    Dean, I don’t disagree with you that the state should be putting more money into higher education. My concern is that, under the current model, any new money gets so diluted by spreading it throughout the entire system that the total dollar figure it would take to properly fund our flagship universities AND reduce tuition (or at least freeze it for many years while the other states catch up to us) would probably be prohibitive.

    It’s also true that Kulongoski’s budget last session did better for universities and community colleges than did the final adopted budget because the legislature wanted to score political points with the OEA by pushing even more money to K-12 than the governor did in his budget (which was already quite generous). I think even a lot of us who support more money for education want to see some change in the system to make sure the money is prioritized according to need, not political influence (and I am NOT talking about teachers or other public employees, but about institutions and programs, when I say that).

  • Karen

    I could have googled but how do OR and Wa compare in all funds budgets?

    • dean

      To Steve P above…yes…there is no shortage of PhDs in the world and every opening draws dozens of applicants, so if that is your standard there is no need to raise faculty wages. You could probably even cut them further and still fill slots with somebody. While you are at it, why not increase class sizes and hold classes in trailers? You may lose your accredidation in some fields, and you will cease to have research institutions because you won’t have the type of faculty that can bring in grants, so innovation will grind to a halt. Our best students will continue to exit the state for their higher education, and many won’t come back. The best and brightest from other states won’t come here, but who needs them? California and Washington will be happy to oblige, but we could still compete with Ole Miss.

      But you will save yourself some tax money. No doubt about that.

      • Steve Plunk

        It’s a little bit unfair to take my thoughts and extend them ad nauseum. Surely that’s a sign of no real logical argument. You can do better.

        My point was to counter all the complaints about pay coming from….the public sector people. What a surprise. There’s never enough money in the pot for that particular interest group. Got a problem then throw money at it seems to be their solution to everything.

        A reasonable balance must be struck and I’m pretty tired of the “best and brightest” argument. That’s an old one and it’s used in every state. The best and brightest leave the state for jobs so how about we do something to stimulate job growth. Job growth in the private sector perhaps.

  • John Fairplay

    I am willing to see salaries for professors at Oregon Universities increased, and I’m willing to pay more to have it happen. However, in return, I expect all salaried professors to spend a minimum of 40 hours per week in the classroom, teaching undergraduates, year around. There is no usage of graduate students to teach classes, and no use of them to grade papers. No paid time to write papers, do research, get published – I’m not interested in paying for that any more than I am paying Stephen King to write – unless I want to buy a book. In addition, I want the curricula streamlined so that politically correct majors such as “womyn’s studies” are done away with. College-level work should be conducted more like it is in Oregon high schools – 4 years of math, 4 years of science, 4 years of social science, 4 years of a world language, 4 years of english. Other kinds of courses can be “electives” and comprise a small percentage of the total coursework.

    Our state universities need a complete overhaul so they can start delivering what the students need and the taxpayers want.

    • Jerry

      The problem with your idea is that most Oregon high schools DO NOT require 4 years of math, 4 years of English, 4 years of language, etc. In fact, virtually none in the state do. None.

    • UO science undergrad

      That is a very destructive attitude you have. If you were taking the courses I take, you would realize that nobody just waltzes in and teaches them “40 hours per week”. I see the incredible amount of time and work my profs put in on the courses they teach. I asked one guy how much time he puts in on a course I am taking from him. He told me about 20 hours per week the first time he taught the course, somewhat less in later years. This for a course that meets 4 hrs per week. He said those were “high quality hours”. I am sitting in the science library right now, I see him in the stacks browsing journals. For tomorrow’s class? I don’t know, but it’s Sunday afternoon. I wonder how many other people are spending their Sunday afternoons like that.

  • Karen

    I would like to know how Oregon Universities compare to Washington in per student spending and teacher compensation.

    Where is s state by state ranking?

  • Anonymous

    JF …. Yours is the kind of approach that would make Oregon about 53rd out of 50 states in the field of higher education. Your comment demonstrates little understanding of the role of universities — and professors — in education. Highly qualified academics would avoid Oregon like the plague. The quality of education provided to students in our colleges and universities would plummet.

    One of the most important tasks of those with (or those seeking) terminal degrees is to advance knowledge in their chosen fields. Quality research and publication is as essential to the institution as is quality teaching. Students won’t long tolerate colleges where no faculty members are working on the frontiers of knowledge.

    If we take the path you advocate, we might as well eliminate all instruction beyond the sophomore level. In fact, I would take the opposite tack. Providing high school and community college teachers with time to do research and writing (and evaluating them on the quality of work done in those endeavors) would improve the quality of scholarship AND teaching.

    • dean

      To John F above…why not insist on phonics while you are at it?

  • Jerry

    I wonder how many of you are aware that if the college people want a raise all they have to do is teach at an Oregon high school.

    A department head at the top of the salary schedule and with a Masters Degree makes more than the typical tenured professor at any of the Oregon universities.

    • dean

      Jerry…yep…that is true. Pretty silly eh? And both systems have unions, so we can’t put the blame there this time.

    • Rupert in Springfield

      High school teachers make more than UO professors? What? You have got to be kidding me? And both are unionized so then therefore that takes unionization out of consideration?

      Ok, lets deal with the last issue first – The Corvair and The Pinto were both cars. Are they as “safe” as a Volvo? Two occupations being unionized doesn’t immediately take unionization off the table for cause and effect.

      Next – Any averaging of University professors salaries is absolutely ludicrous. I can tell you that anyone who is saying a UO professor with a PhD makes less than a HS teacher with a masters is probably uninformed, or reading statistics. UO professors are paid quite a wide range of salaries. An assistant professor (that’s where you start in university academia) in Computer Science will make to start roughly twice what someone in the humanities will make. Why is this? Simple, one has to pay more to the Comp Sci professor because there is a private job waiting for them that simply isn’t there for the Womyns studies professor. Therefore, given the wide range of pay, any averaging is something of a misleading figure.

      Lastly – University professors get something known as tenure. Most people are aware of this and are aware of what it means. What most do not know is that tenure is generally transferrable. If you are a tenured professor and move to another university, you will generally be tenured upon hire. This is different from HS teachers, who often when transferring school systems get moved to the low end of the seniority scale. Therefore tenure has quite a tangible value which one might want consider when coming up with the usual “lets throw money at it” approach to the Oregon university system.

      How do I know all this? Two ex’s who were professors at UO and waaaaayyyyyyy too many faculty parties as well as two friends who taught high school in Oregon.

      • Jerry

        Here is the math from 2007 for average salaries for full professor, associate professor, and assistant professor in OR:

        Oregon $81,514 $60,573 $55,001

        The high school teacher I mentioned makes the same if not a bit more than the average full professor. Much more than either the associate or assistant. Of course pay varies for what they are teaching, which is what should be happening in K-12.

        You can not base arguments on going to parties. You have to actually look at the numbers.

        You also have to admit, considering the above figure is an average, that HALF the college professors in Oregon make less than the high school teacher dept. chair example I used.

        The real issue might just be this. Could the college professors teach high school? Most, sadly, could not.

        • Rupert in Springfield

          >You can not base arguments on going to parties. You have to actually look at the numbers.

          Well, one might want to consider that in going to those parties I might have more in depth knowledge of those numbers than you do. For example, the numbers you cited don’t tell the full story, for the reason I gave in my original post. Professors are paid widely varying salaries based upon what they teach. Ten years ago Assistant Professors in the humanities would start around $40k whereas Computer Science would start at around $85k. For this reason, an average figure isn’t really telling you as much as it might if the figures had less variability, or if the population of the departments was factored in. I can also tell you that any university, UO included, will do quite a bit to hire “Star Professors” and pay them quite large salaries, as well as throw lavish labs and housing at them. These few “Stars” can really throw off an average as could having a heavily weighted humanities program vs. engineering or comp sci.

          >You also have to admit, considering the above figure is an average, that HALF the college professors in Oregon make less than the high school teacher dept. chair example I used.

          I don’t have to admit that at all. You are confusing average with median.

          >The real issue might just be this. Could the college professors teach high school? Most, sadly, could not.

          They probably could not, but I don’t really think that is all that sad. They are entirely different disciplines thus interchangeability is not much of a criteria to assess performance. Teaching at the university level requires far more education, commitment and work. The trade off is university professors have far more latitude in how they teach, what sort of research they do and are much less beholden to the union if they are a member of one. In short they can chart their course academically to a far greater extent than a high school teacher can, that has value to more than a few.

        • rural resident

          If you’re referring to salaries (as opposed to total compensation), there isn’t a high school teacher in Oregon making anywhere near $81K. Administrators, yes … their salaries are much too high in many districts, but that’s a whole different issue. Most teachers don’t even come close to the $60K of the associate professor.

          The bigger pay disparity problem in Oregon concerns community college instructors. They have fairly heavy teaching loads and other academic commitments, but make much less in many cases than do high school teachers. I was offered a CC job some years ago, and turned down the opportunity — and the $17K pay cut that would have gone along with it.

          >>>*The real issue might just be this. Could the college professors teach high school? Most, sadly, could not.*<<< Forget the pay difference. Given the huge difference in working conditions, I can't imagine a college professor WANTING to teach at the high school level. Given their subject matter expertise, almost any of them *could* go through the "fifth year" program to get a secondary teaching certificate. However, once they got into the schools, they would be so frustrated by the administrivia high school teachers have to put up with, not to mention the indifferent attitudes of students and the dismissiveness with which HS teachers are treated by administrators, parents, school boards, and most of the rest of society.

      • eagle eye

        Rupert — you say you are very well informed about UO — but on one factual matter you are not well informed at all. Faculty at UO are not unionized.

        • Rupert in Springfield

          Well, considering I never said that UO faculty was unionized, I am not really sure as to the point of this comment.

          The only claim close to this was made by “dean”, who said

          “both systems have unions, so we can’t put the blame there this time.”

          and even that isn’t a claim that UO professors are unionized. Might want to re-read.

          • eagle eye

            OK. You did say:

            “High school teachers make more than UO professors? What? You have got to be kidding me? And both are unionized so then therefore that takes unionization out of consideration?”

            I (perhaps mis-)interpreted that as a claim that UO professors are unionized. In context, I can see that that was not what you are saying.

            Anyhow, glad we agree on this point: UO professors are not (currently) unionized.

  • davidg

    In analyzing Oregon’s major universities, I think it is worth looking at what its customer’s, the students, appear to be saying by willingness to attend. Tuition at both UO and OSU are at all times high. Yet enrollment at both is also at record highs. I’d say the customers seem to be satisfied with the product now.

    As I recall, both UO and OSU are approaching about 90% self-funding from tuition. Their reliance on the legislature for funding is disappearing. Both universities should be looking at making themselves independent of legislative funding, mandates, and red tape. They should be thinking about how they can go completely independent. The legislature, in its wisdom, can then limit its involvement in education to giving scholarships to the needy, but nothing else. Divorcing higher education from state politics may be the most creative thing higher education could do for itself.

  • Jerry

    David
    Agreed. They should go off the political grid – they could save the remaining 10% by not having to deal with all the red tape from Salem – I am certain of that. I wonder why they don’t??

    • dean

      To david g….in the case of our state universities, we are ALL the customers, either directly or indirectly. Our economy depends on the education and productivity of our people, so our schools, K-12 and through university are vital.

      The argument cuts 2 ways. We are down to 10% taxpayer funding so why not go all the way, versus maybe we had better ramp up taxpayer spending to a level that meets our need/desire to have a first rate university system.

      Jerry…cutting the remaining annual funding to zero does not take the state universities “off the political grid.” These are still state employees operating in taxpayer owned and payed for facilities. I just don’t know of anywhere that has first rate, public universities that are not state financed. And don’t say “Harvard.” Its not a state university.

    • eagle eye

      Jerry — actually, a lot more than 10% of the key elements of the budget come from the state. At UO it is still something like a third. To get it more like the figure you cite, you have to add in research grants (not transferable to “core” teaching costs), dorm fees, athletic revenue, etc etc. Even then it’s not 10% it’s more like 1/6, I believe.

      Anyhow, the state shows no sign of letting the campuses become more independent. Several of the smaller campuses are actually in danger of going under and had to be bailed out last time around. (See what Jack Roberts says). Probably UO and OSU could make it on their own but only if a subsidy continued for the in-state students and the state deeded them the campuses. Not going to happen. The state wants to maintain control over tuition, admissions standards, and programs. If anything, the state is centralizing control of the campuses more and more.

      I have reason to believe they’ve talked this over quite a bit at UO. It’s all just talk, the conclusion is that the state is going to keep them on a short leash, whatever might be desired at the campus level.

  • Bo

    Who cares if we dont rank well, the point is that we try real hard.

  • Junior

    i go to yooniversitee uv uregn whi evrywon say we hav a bad skool

    thats raysist!

    go ubama!