The Wait for the National Research Council Rankings Continues

Why has it taken so long, and will the information still be relevant when the rankings arrive?

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If you are one those in waiting for the National Research Council (NRC) to release its new rankings on U.S. doctoral programs, you will have to be patient a lot longer. The NRC doctoral ranking project, which began in 2003, just released A Guide to the Methodology of the National Research Council Assessment of Doctorate Programs. The guide offers a sophisticated, 191-page explanation of the methodology that the NRC will use when it does publish the rankings, which will cover doctoral programs in 61 doctoral fields at 222 institutions.

The NRC makes it very clear that it is not setting a date for the release of the rankings. Why, after all this time, is the NRC unable to set a firm date for when the new rankings will be published? The NRC's website says:

"With the publication of the Methodology Guide, we have completed a major milestone. The NRC and its committee feel an enormous obligation to produce data and rankings that are of the highest quality possible. Striving for this objective requires careful review of the data and rankings for over 5000 programs. This has already taken considerable time and is nearing completion. The committee must also finish summarizing the most important findings from the data, as well as discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the methodology for incorporation in the final report. The last step of the process is for the final report to undergo the Academy's rigorous review. We are working to complete all this work as expeditiously as possible."

When the rankings finally are published, they will be produced in ranges and not as a single number. Each Ph.D. program will be assessed overall, as well as in depth in three areas: research activity, student support and outcomes, and student and faculty diversity.

Some questions to ponder while we all continue to wait for the new NRC rankings:

Are the data that will be used in the rankings losing their analytical validity since they will be from the 2005-2006 academic year?

Why wasn't the NRC able to produce its rankings more quickly, using more up-to-date information?

How many faculty members have switched institutions and departments since the NRC first started collecting data in fall 2006? This is very important because faculty data are a key part of the NRC's analysis.

Is the NRC's methodology too complicated for the typical Ph.D. student and faculty member to understand? Will the fact that the methodology is very complex make the NRC's rankings less accessible to prospective doctoral students and others in academia?

U.S. News produces the annual America's Best Graduate Schools rankings. In the same period that the NRC has been working on its yet-to-be-completed rankings, U.S. News has published seven rankings using the most up-to-date school data. Since the last NRC rankings were published in 1995, U.S. News has published 14 annual America's Best Graduate Schools rankings. As a result, it should not be a surprise that the U.S. News rankings have become an important source of information for anyone looking to go to a U.S. graduate school.