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Last modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010

National Research Council study validates quality of IU doctoral programs

Sept. 29, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University programs in the natural and mathematical sciences, humanities, social sciences and public affairs were recognized as among the best in the United States in the Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs released Tuesday (Sept. 28) by the National Research Council.

While the assessment does not include single numerical rankings, IU programs in folklore, musicology, ecology and evolutionary biology, public policy, psychology, mathematics, sociology and public affairs ranked at or near the top of their fields, and other programs were close behind.

"The NRC report makes clear that there is a remarkable range of outstanding research doctoral programs at Indiana University," said Karen Hanson, university executive vice president for academic affairs and IU Bloomington provost. "The data presented in the report, reflecting criteria that faculty have identified as important, will be studied and will serve as an important resource for our doctoral programs as they seek to preserve and enhance their strengths now and in the future."

Fifty-four programs at IU Bloomington and 14 at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis were included in the study, which examined more than 5,000 doctoral programs at 121 universities. The NRC conducted similar studies in 1983 and 1995. But because the methodologies were different, it isn't possible to tell from the studies whether the quality of a program has changed over time.

This marks the first time that IU's Indianapolis campus was included in the assessment. Its program in microbiology and immunology received high marks overall; its dental science program ranked No. 1 for faculty and student diversity; and several other programs ranked high for diversity and student outcomes and support.

"The NRC assessment validates that our programs are providing a high-quality doctoral education for diverse student populations," said IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz. "It is especially gratifying to see they are outperforming many of their peers on metrics that measure impact on fields of research, institutional diversity, and student support and outcomes."

James Wimbush, dean of the University Graduate School, said the report will enable faculty and administrators to see where there are opportunities for improvement in doctoral programs. The data will also enable prospective students to better evaluate and compare graduate degree programs as they decide which institution is the best fit for their graduate education.

"This study provides evidence to support what we've believed to be true all along -- we have great doctoral programs in Bloomington and Indianapolis," Wimbush said. "The results, in my opinion, are a reflection of the commitment to doctoral education by IU faculty and administrators. And we are proud of the daily contributions made by our graduate students and faculty."

At IU Bloomington, programs in the upper tier of overall rankings also include telecommunications, American studies, Germanic studies, linguistics, English, cognitive science, history, physics and anthropology. Business, law, education and music performance, areas in which IU programs excel, were not included in the disciplines that were studied by the NRC. Data were collected but rankings were not calculated for certain area studies and language programs and for "emerging fields," including informatics and criminal justice.

The study includes data for each program on 20 characteristics, including faculty publications, citations, and awards, student financial support and progress to degree, and faculty and student diversity. Data were collected from public sources and through questionnaires administered in 2006. The study does not identify "best programs," as its expert advisory committee decided that no single criteria or set of criteria captures the wide variety of different interests that apply to doctoral education. Instead, it includes a range of rankings for each program, with 90 percent certainty that the program falls within that range.

It also uses two methodologies, producing different sets of rankings. "S" rankings are based on a survey of all faculty about which criteria are most important. "R" rankings are derived from surveys of a sample of faculty about the relative strength of programs in their field.

The assessment also provides "dimensional" rankings of programs according to faculty research productivity, student support and outcomes, and diversity and academic environment.

Among IU Bloomington programs:

  • The public affairs doctorate program in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs ranked between first and fourth among 54 such programs in the R rankings; SPEA's public policy program was between second and fifth in the S rankings.
  • Ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Arts & Sciences was between third and 14th among nearly 100 programs in both the R and S rankings.
  • Folklore, also in the College of Arts & Sciences, ranked between first and third in the S rankings and between second and 12th in the R rankings among 63 programs in the category "music (not performance)."
  • The musicology program in the Jacobs School of Music ranked between first and eighth in the R rankings and between third and eighth in the S rankings in "music (not performance)."
  • Eleven programs ranked as high as the top 10 percent of their field in the R rankings; nine programs ranked that high in the S rankings.

While NRC measurements are less precise for some fields, it is possible to compare results for similar programs at different universities. For example, the IU Bloomington telecommunications and linguistics programs are ranked at the top of the Big Ten and among the top programs nationally.

"The NRC assessment confirms that SPEA offers doctoral programs that are among the very best in the nation in public affairs and public policy," said John Graham, dean of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "It is a credit to our outstanding faculty and our talented and dedicated students."

David Zaret, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, said the assessment has good news for undergraduates as well as doctoral students. "The quality of graduate programs has a direct and immediate impact on the quality of the undergraduate education at IU," he said. "We've been awaiting the NRC results for some time, and are obviously delighted that so many College of Arts and Sciences graduate programs received excellent rankings in this study. The results underscore our commitment to our core goals of providing an outstanding undergraduate education across many disciplines, and training the next generation of university professors."

The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, a nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter. Its mission is to improve government policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge.

The Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs may be downloaded at