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UMass doctoral program ranked among top-performing schools by National Research Council

Mathew Harrison/Collegian

Every student wants to get value and fulfillment out of their education. With the rising cost of tuition, what student wouldn’t be concerned with the quality of classes and professors?

Several University of Massachusetts programs were recently included in a study conducted by the National Research Council ranking 5,000 Doctoral programs at 212 universities. UMass was ranked highly, competing with some of the most prestigious top-performing schools in the country.

       UMass had 39 fields of study eligible for assessment, five of which were ranked highly. Programs including food science, kinesiology, linguistics, and polymer science and engineering ranked among the top programs.

In a table of top-performing institutions prepared by the university news web-magazine Inside Higher Ed, eight programs had strong showings: animal biotechnology, chemical engineering, chemistry, computer science, history, mathematics, philosophy, and psychology. UMass was also the only campus to have its African-American studies program included.

       The Linguistics department was ranked highest among the University’s programs. According to a graph on PhDs.org, the Linguistics department at UMass had high showings for survey quality, research product, and student outcomes.

When asked how this will affect the department and what can be attributed to its success, John McCarthy, head of the Linguistics Department, said, “All of us – faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates- were very pleased at this news. It’s recognition of the outstanding work that comes out of our department. It’s important for everyone to realize that UMass Amherst has departments like ours that compete at the very highest level, against universities with far more resources, such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, or Berkeley.”        

As the only school with an African-American studies department included, it was categorized into the larger department of American Studies, and continued to make very impressive showings in the rankings.

Chair of the African-American Studies department Dr. Amilcar Shabazz said, “we were ranked number six amongst other American Studies programs. We’re right up there with the Ivies; Yale, Harvard, etc.”

Shabazz said he was proud that, “we’re ranked within the cream of the crop, top universities and top programs all over the country, the fact that we place in top 10 and six in student outcomes is [an] additional source of evidence that we do a very good job in this department in preparing students for the job market, and research and service to community”

            One category where the African American studies program exceeded was in diversity. The program had a one-to-three range ranking in diversity, higher than any of the other departments listed.

When asked what these rankings mean for the University, Shabazz said, “We view it as affirming and providing additional evidence of the great job we’re doing preparing the next generation of professors that study the culture, history, politics, and literature of united states.”

According to Shabazz, these rankings are useful for funding purposes, students considering graduate programs, administrators, and professors. The data is also organized on PhDs.org into a comparative look at the schools based on priority of the rankings and categories.

John Mullin, dean of the University’s graduate programs, said the NRC rankings “measure deeply with 22 different criteria. This makes it more formal and meaningful than other rankings.”

He emphasized that “they look at everything, quality of students, faculty, and, above all reputation.”

The rankings were organized in a peer ranking style, meaning faculty from other campuses were asked to rank aspects of other universities.

Mullin said he attributes the success of these programs to the “commitment of faculty and desire of students.”

He added, “Faculty really want to make a contribution to society. The faculty in these programs aim to make students the best they can be; well placed in the jobs and schools they want, and contribute to improvement of the nation and state, whether it’s cleaner air, creating a new plastic, understanding cultures, etc.”

The types of students that could find these rankings useful are students entering into graduate and doctoral programs. These rankings lay out and compare some of the top graduate programs in the country.

According to Mullin, graduate students at UMass have an average GPA of 3.5, GRE scores in the 90th percentile and 18 percent of the student body identify as of a different ethnicity than white.

            Nancy Pierce can be reached at npierce@student.umass.edu.

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