Survey assesses Ph.D. programs
Report places nearly one-third of University doctoral programs at nationís top
Nearly a third of the University's doctoral programs placed in the top 10 of specialized programs nationwide in the National Research Council's rankings released last week.
The NRC collected data during the 2005-06 academic year from more than 5,000 programs in 62 different fields at 212 colleges and universities. The report is expected to aid prospective students in their search for doctoral programs and to help universities to improve the quality, breadth and scope of their program offerings.
The NRC considers variables such as publications per faculty member, average Graduate Record Examination scores, average number of doctorates granted, median time required for degree completion and variety of student activities offered. The report also includes a separate ranking for the reputation of each individual program, as viewed by the academic and professional communities.
It is the first such survey released by the NRC in more than 15 years. The report acknowledges several trends seen since the last publication in 1995. For example, the number of students enrolled in engineering and the physical sciences increased - by as much as 9 percent for engineering and 4 percent for the physical sciences. Conversely, the number of students enrolled in the social sciences and humanities decreased - by 5 percent in the social sciences and 12 percent in the humanities.
All fields, but particularly engineering, saw growth in the number of female students enrolled, the press release stated. The number of doctorate degrees granted to minority groups has also increased. These comparisons are limited to programs that participated in both of the studies.
The survey revealed strengths in several physical and biological science departments, such as the University's astronomy, microbiology, pharmacology and kinesiology programs, as well as the University's systems and biomedical engineering programs. The University's English, French, German, Spanish and religious studies programs also reached the top 15.
"U.Va. fared well in the sense that one-third of all of our programs ranked as high as the top 10," Vice President for Research Thomas Skalak said. He added that "excellent programs were spread across the institution," and not just concentrated in one field.
University Provost Arthur Garson expressed pride at the University's solid performance.
"I am extremely pleased," Garson stated in an e-mail. "The University demonstrated strength throughout the schools."
Skalak said 12 of the University's 24 science, engineering and math programs, five of its eight Medical School programs, six of its nine Engineering programs and two of its eight Graduate Arts & Sciences programs spanned the top 15 percent in research activity. Skalak called these figures "a key indicator of how our growth efforts are going" and evidence that the University's investments in faculty, facilities and cutting-edge programs "have really been showing results."
Skalak said the study reflected a balance of excellence across the University's doctoral programs, which he said "opens up collaborative possibilities." This opportunity for collaboration is one of the strengths of the University as a doctoral institution, he said.
"In today's world, most challenges and issues are very interdisciplinary," Skalak said. "Collaboration lets you attack problems with social significance," which is what a university should be doing, Skalak said.
Nevertheless, Garson warned against placing too much importance on rankings.
"While surveys of this type are helpful in providing some idea of how others see us, establishing strategy on the basis of such a survey would be wrong," he stated. "The individual schools, as well as we collectively, will need to incorporate these views as we move forward ... Rankings do not determine strategy. Great programs can always improve; those that receive lower rankings will need scrutiny, either to improve or perhaps to downsize."
-Caroline Newman contributed to this article