This year’s U.S. News & World Report listing ranks the University of Connecticut as No. 24 in the nation on its compilation of top public institutions. For most of those who attend UConn, this is probably little surprise given the tremendous amenities afforded students. However, for those on the outside looking in — perhaps unfamiliar with the school entirely — the numbers tell the story.
UConn ranks fourth in the country in terms of the time required for the average undergraduate to earn their degree (4.2 years); the school returns 93 percent of freshman, with the average SAT scores of incoming students having risen substantially over the years from 1226 in fall 2012 to 1306 in the fall of last year. Further, 93 percent of faculty have earned the highest degree attainable in their respective fields.
Obviously, UConn is a formidable academic institution stocked with a talented and highly accomplished field of educators. The students are ruthlessly ambitious; the faculty is exceptionally well qualified; and the academic environment is competitive, teeming with students seeking to challenge themselves, their classmates and even their professors — to be better than they were yesterday. Summed up by President Katsouleas: “UConn is among the top 25 best public research universities in the nation, and we are very proud of that.” Understandably so. But UConn’s regression from No. 22 last year to No. 24 isn’t emblematic of the school’s focus on improvement.
While President Katsouleas was quick to (correctly) note the university’s primary focus of “building the strength of the institution, recruiting talented students and faculty, engaging our alumni and growing research,” he made it clear that “our strategy at UConn is not to chase this or any ranking.” Maybe it ought to be to a certain extent.
The basketball teams seek to be ranked among the nation’s best — the seeding matters exceptionally in both March and during summer recruiting. The same of course applies to the school’s other athletic programs on a yearly basis. Rankings matter. They’re how the school can distinguish itself from its competitors; and to the victor goes the spoils. If the institution’s goal is to attract top applicants and faculty who will further the school’s mission and boost its reputation and influence on the national stage, then it’s imperative to be ranked higher than everyone else.
Top ten is certainly sexier than No. 24. As the president has said, the focus remains on the day to day. But, ultimately, we need to be moving forward, not backward. Those ranked ahead should hear our footsteps.