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National Research Council doctoral rankings released

Universities have waited 15 years for today's release of a report and spreadsheet that rank thousands of doctoral programs in overall quality.

The National Research Council report updates a study last completed in 1995. It rates doctoral programs across more than 60 fields, and ranks them in a way that passes muster with academic leaders.

That's a significant feat, considering how many misgivings presidents and researchers have about the many other academic rankings on newsstands now.

If it's past 1 p.m. and you're reading this, that means the entire data dump is live and available online. Try clicking on this link or go to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which promises a user-friendly and searchable way for readers to find their favorite university and see how its classics program stacks up.

The rankings will launch a thousand press releases and glossy mailings, giving every doctoral university a chance to tout the merits of its programs based on a solid foundation of quantitative research. Every component of the NRC rankings seems to be statistical. Gone are the "reputational ratings" that apparently factored into the 1995 release. (Update: It turns out they're still there, in modified form.)

Good luck, though, trying to figure out which programs rank the highest. The data package states each program's ranking as a range, and there are two different ranking systems, sorting the numbers in slightly different ways.

We learn, for example, that the English doctoral programs at Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford all may rank as high as No. 1. But it is statistically possible that they rank as low as 7, 8 or 9. And that's only according to one of the two subtly different ranking methods.

The University of Virginia reports that several of its programs rank "as high as the top 10," cautious language driven by the vagaries of the ranking itself. High-ranked programs include astronomy, English, religious studies, Spanish, microbiology, pharmacology, physiology, systems engineering and biomedical engineering.

High-ranked University of Maryland programs include aerospace engineering, agricultural and resource economics, comparative literature, computer science, geography, linguistics, atmospheric and oceanic science and public policy.

The rankings cover more than 5,000 programs at 212 universities.

A sort of master chart ranks the top universities in overall Ph.D. production: the University of California, Berkeley, followed by the universities of Texas, Michigan, California-Los Angeles and Wisconsin, and then Stanford. U-Md. ranks 16th on that list, and Johns Hopkins 23rd.

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By Daniel de Vise  | September 28, 2010; 12:34 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Pedagogy, Rankings, Research  | Tags:  NRC rankings, National Research Council rankings, UMD rankings, UVA rankings, doctoral rankings, phd rankings  
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