Improving Our Art Programs Rankings

Ranking art programs is difficult because the material is so subjective by nature.

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It seems there is a growing interest among all sectors of academia in discussing the U.S. News rankings. One such discussion took place today at the College of Art Association's 2009 Annual Conference in Los Angeles. This was the first time that U .S. News gave a presentation on our graduate fine arts program rankings. The session was called "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of National Ranking of Art Programs."

The panel included Paul Lee, professor in the School of Art at the University of Tennessee; Joseph Seipel, senior associate dean for academic affairs and director of graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University; Bill Barrett, executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design; and Patricia Olynyk, director of the Graduate School of Art at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

The current U.S. News master of fine arts rankings are based solely on a peer reputation survey among art school academics at 220 art schools or departments. We also rank art specialty departments, including ceramics, fiber arts, glass, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, metals/jewelry, multimedia/visual communications, painting/drawing, photography, printmaking, and sculpture. These rankings are based solely on results from the same peer assessment survey. The selections of the 220 schools, the individuals surveyed at each school, and the specialty concentrations were developed by the Department of Art and Visual Technology at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at George Mason University in Virginia, working cooperatively with us.

Among the issues my presentation covered was the history of the arts rankings at the college and graduate level. I explained that the main reason the graduate fine arts rankings are based solely on academic reputation is, of course, that the arts are very subjective. I asked whether fine arts programs could be ranked using quantitative indicators and discussed what would need to happen in order for U.S. News to do that. I told the conferees that they would need to take the lead and develop quantitative factors to measure differences between art schools. If art schools developed and defined such statistical factors, then we would use them. Currently, there are neither agreed-upon statistical indicators nor an existing data set. I hope that this presentation will be a catalyst to enable U.S. News and representatives from the art schools to work together to seek practical ways to improve our art school rankings.