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8/20/2004

Utah universities rank well; U.S. News magazine issues its annual national comparison list; Utah colleges rank well on U.S. News list

August 20, 2004, Friday

The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

BYLINE: Shinika A. Sykes , The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah's two largest universities stand out in U.S. News & World Report's hotly debated and highly anticipated college rankings.

The magazine's 2005 edition of America's Best Colleges -- which hits the newsstands early next week -- gives high marks to Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.

LDS Church-owned BYU is ranked 74th (down from 67th last year) and the U. -- the state's flagship public university -- is 111th (up from 117th). The two schools are among the top 120 of the nation's 1,400 four-year accredited colleges and universities.

Farther down the list is Utah State University, nestled in the third tier of national universities offering a full range of undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees.

Westminster College, a private school on Salt Lake City's east side, is 22nd (down from 15th) and Weber State University, a public school in Ogden, is 47th among Western universities offering a variety of undergraduate and master's programs.

Graduate schools, including top law and MBA programs, will be ranked in a future issue.

U.S. News began the college rankings 21 years ago to help make up for a lack of independent information about the schools, said Richard Folkers, the magazine's director of media relations.

Through the years, a lot more anecdotal information has been added to make the edition more of a service to students and families. Selecting a college is not only an important life decision but sometimes is the student's first big adult decision.

"It's a major expense for families," Folkers said. "A year at a lot of colleges costs as much as a pretty nice car."

U. student Tim Wienecke has little interest in where his school ranks among the nation's universities and colleges. The senior sociology major from Maryland is more concerned about his overall educational experience. Before choosing the U., he heard good things about the Salt Lake City school from his Utah friends.

"I came to the U. because it was more liberal and offered a better environment than what I saw at other colleges," Wienecke said.

There also was another strong selling point: His Utah friends offered to put him up during his college years.

Most students, like Wienecke, make their college choice without checking U.S. News' annual report or other college guidebooks, said Paul Brinkman, the U.'s vice president for planning and budget.

The U. is not in the "upper crust" [top 50 schools] because it takes much more money than the state provides, Brinkman explained. More money would mean a host of good things such as smaller class sizes.

"Things like retention and graduation rate are a function of how selective a school is," Brinkman said. "We are selective, but not highly selective."

USU President Kermit Hall noted that his school's graduation rate does not correspond with the school's rising first-year retention figure because they are looking at different time frames. He, nonetheless, praised U.S. News for underscoring the value of undergraduate education.

"It's an independent, interesting, but not altogether completely accurate view of the institution," Hall said.

Folkers said that the rankings are merely a tool. "We hope students would not pick a school on the basis of a ranking but use the ranking to find the school that's right for them."

Tribune reporter Lori Buttars contributed to this report.