By Richard Vedder
One byproduct of work we have done on finding new ways of assessing (ranking) colleges and universities is that we have obtained great data on student attitudes towards the courses and instructors they take. That data is susceptible to statistical analysis, and we have begun to do some --with fascinating results.
I asked Whiz Kid Jim Coleman the other day to statistically examine the relationship between the proportion of students at a university that are NOT undergraduates and the average rating of professors on ratemyprofessors.com. I hypothesized a negative relationship between the proportion of non-undergraduates (graduate and professional students) and the average rating of professors by undergraduate students. Jim obtained that relationship --with a vengeance. Where schools are predominantly undergraduates (liberal arts colleges, schools with small graduate or professional programs), the students are happier with their courses on average.
Why? At schools emphasizing graduate and professional education, the undergraduate student is the neglected "cash cow". Endowments and other resources are used to fund expensive graduate and professional programs. Graduate students are used to teach undergraduates -- often inexperienced, less knowledgeable about the subject matter, less motivated to do well and less likely to know the English language. The senior faculty fawn over their graduate students, and vice versa.
This all came home to me when Tim Forbes, of the magazine of the same name, asked me why Brown had done so well on the CCAP college rankings. I had a hunch the answer was that Brown had small graduate programs and no professional schools --medical and law schools, etc. Most teaching is done by Ph.D. holding faculty members. Thus Brown should have very high positive evaluations of students about their learning experience --and it did, ranking number one among national universities on the ratemyprofessors.com criterion.
Today, most aspiring second tier universities want to expand their graduate, professional and research dimensions, thinking that will improve their US News and World Report rankings (it might), gain it more resources (e.g., federal research grants), and please the faculty who want to do more esoteric research that might have professional payoffs, rather than teach survey courses to undergraduates. What our research is finding that this approach of neglecting undergraduate education has the probable and predictable effect of lowering the quality of the education experience of undergraduates. The new CCAP rankings, still being fully developed but discussed both in the May 19 issue of Forbes and on the Forbes.com web site, are more student friendly and tend to punish schools that neglect undergraduate education.