The Engineering Rankings vs. Physics Theory

The problem is that this new theory of the rankings doesn't stand up to scrutiny.


There is another new explanation about why it's very difficult for engineering schools to change their rankings in the U.S. News America's Best Graduate Schools. The problem is that this new theory doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The new hypothesis of why the U.S. News graduate engineering rankings don't change much comes from Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. He says there is an engineering explanation for this, and it's linked to "constructal theory," which he developed. Bejan's premise is that constructal theory" shows that the hierarchy of universities will stay quite rigid despite improvements at individual schools.

For those who are interested in a detailed academic explanation, his paper "Why University Rankings Do Not Change: Education as Natural Hierarchical Flow of Architecture" appears in the latest issue of the International Journal of Design & Nature.

It's true that there is very little change in the U.S. News graduate engineering school rankings from one year to the next. The reason that the rankings are relatively stable is that many engineering schools themselves don't change much year to year. However, some engineering schools have risen in the rankings since 1990. Why? They go up in rank when they make changes such as significantly increasing the amount of externally funded engineering research they conduct or adding quality programs in new engineering disciplines. In addition, some have also fallen in the rankings when they vastly reduce the number of engineering programs they offer or the dollar amount of research they conduct.

So, the explanation doesn't have anything to with the laws of physics.