Virginia Higher-Ed System Rated Tops in Country

Virginia is the best state for higher education in the United States, according to a ranking by Smartasset, a financial website. Last year, Virginia ranked second, behind California. States the website:

Virginia … effectively educates its students. It has one of the highest average graduation rates in our study (70%). And the average 20-year return on investment for graduates is $442,660. That’s the fourth-highest ROI in our study. For 2017, both the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary rank among the top 10 public universities in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The survey uses multiple metrics, including the undergraduate graduation rate, the average net price, the 20-year return on investment, and the student-faculty ratio. Because each factor is weighted based on each school’s total undergraduate enrollment, larger schools have a greater impact on the overall average in every state.

Bacon’s bottom line: While the flagship institutions of UVa and William & Mary obviously contributed to the high score for Virginia’s system of higher education, the ranking methodology counted the big schools the most, and that’s a credit to Virginia Tech, George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Old Dominion University.

This blog tends to focus on the failings of Virginia’s colleges and universities, especially on the metric of affordability. Surveys like this provide a useful reminder that higher education systems across the country have their imperfections, and that Virginia’s flaws, as glaring as they might seem to us, are less grievous than those in other state systems.

That’s really damning with faint praise, isn’t it? OK, I’ll come out and say it, despite its blemishes, Virginia’s system of higher education is actually p-p-p- — hold on, I know I can get it out — p-p-p pretty good.

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11 responses to “Virginia Higher-Ed System Rated Tops in Country”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Oh my goodness. How long should American’s take this metrics stuff seriously. You would think by now the folks cooking up this nonsense would feel obligated to look a bit deeper and do so with a measure of intelligence and insight as to learn what is going on in the real world out on the campuses, in the dorms, in the classrooms, and everywhere else in academia.

    Out there, where the real world is, most people now in higher education find themselves caught in the grand state of collapse, like Rome before its sack. Hence ever more students and faculty every year find themselves either:

    Going crazy or wigging out crying for help,
    Or hanging in stunned and suspended animation,
    Or making fortunes while not teaching at all,
    Or bored and distracted and cheated,
    Or suffering from emotional trauma, caught in obsessive, chronic and destructive patterns of behavior,
    Or hiding curled fetal-like in their hole,
    Or lying through their teeth while pretending to work

    Or in the case of tenured versus the unwashed-

    Although a decade away from official retirement, too many tenured are really in their 2nd or 3rd decade of de jure retirement but paid to a tenured professor while their underpaid subordinate minions do all the work, including the most of the work their tenured betters get paid for.

    As to this latter group, the minions below who are gritting the teeth, over worked and underpaid, yet often doing their best to teach far too often spoiled and snotty and overbearing or over strung kids who like many of their minion teachers are just hanging on too, bored or disgruntled or angry, or simply lost at sea by a system of corrupt education that rips the ground out from under them and throws them into the sea without any real support, and so have to fight alone the odds stacked against any best efforts or hopes or dreams they may aspire to.

    So you name it – higher education in America is a dysfunctional mess.

    Meanwhile the culture on campus and curriculum across the spectrum of the liberal arts and sciences, its teaching and preservation and enhancement, those things so critical to our society that has been in free fall for decades, now has collapsed altogether or nearly so.

    In my view, bogus studies like this that have lost the means to understand what a real college education is, much less know how to measure it, are like the institutions they cover. There effort hide the truth, rather than reveal it. And so do far more harm than good. This is not just my view. It is widely shared by many of the best in the business of higher education.

  2. Reed, American higher ed is a mess. Is it not possible that Virginia’s higher ed system is less bad than the others?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Of course it is possible that Virginia’s higher ed system is less bad than the others. But this study, and all those like it are worse than worthless. To believe them and to rely on them, or to give them any credit at all, only reinforces the mess that we along with most all well ranked institutions are in today. This is particularly so regarding elite institutions and those in the upper tiers. These kinds of reports benefit them while penalizing everyone else. Hence they give a grossly distorted picture that tells mostly lies as to what most students and parents need to know about where to send their kids.

      So these reports have much to answer for. They are ruining or otherwise doing great harm most all of our better schools and to the education of most of our kids. That is why we end up with endless scandals at the schools like Duke Lacrosse, Rolling Stone Rape articles, the Middlebury College riots. Not to mention lousy educations for otherwise brilliant kids who otherwise or should not fail.

      Look at the Middlebury College. I recall that it is ranked number 4 in its class in the nation by US News and World Reports or some such report. Look at what goes on there.

      Many serious educators think that Harvard way under performs in its teaching of undergraduates in its Arts and Sciences. Many professors at Harvard and an ever growing number of colleges and university’s greatly disdain and want nothing to do with teaching. So many undergraduates get lousy undergraduate educations no matter where they go. Because the system, starting with metrics used in ratings heavily discourage teaching while they reward activities and characteristics that greatly impair good teaching of the right curriculum that undergraduate students need.

      So these metrics of ranking colleges for students today are not only totally bogus they are positively harmful to the likelihood of that student getting the education he or she needs. Most everyone serious in the business of higher education today knows this. But like so much else bad going on today, few are willing to talk about it. Why is a subject for another day. But those institutions at the top keep playing this awful and student destroying game of game of out of control status seeking that wastes and miss- allocate vast sums of money and critically valuable and irreplaceable time in the students life. Hence institutions undermine not only their students’ education but their culture and heritage and sense of place within and belonging to both, all of which impairs their ability to know who they are and where they want and where to go, and what they want to do with their futures and the tools to get there.

      Higher education from top to bottom is today and every day now destroying western civilization, and America along with it. We are and for decades have been undermining whole generations of our students. Our institutions, and most particularly more and more of our colleges and universities are undermining us, our children and our future. It plain to see all around us.

      And these reports and how they twist out of shape our corrupt and dying systems of higher education are directly responsible for much of the damage that is leading into cultural collapse.

      Here, in this particular case, if we believe these sorts of reports we are patting ourselves on the back for a failing system. And in my view the higher the ranking the higher one can be assured of a corrupt system because the report is measuring the wrong things at the gross expense of the right ones.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    There must be a factory out there churning out these rankings for the news (or in some cases fake news) outlets….

    Given what I’ve seen, no question Virginia has one of the finest systems in the U.S., public and private. And these people did look at cost, and even though Virginia’s reported net cost is about 25 percent above the national average and even higher above # 2 California’s, the leaders of Virginia’s expensive schools will feel fully justified that their prices are just fine. Which is a crying shame, because the prices are not fine.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I smell a rat… these folks must be in cahoots with the Partners for Affordable Excellence @ EDU folks!

    Everyone and their DOG .. knows.. Virginia sucks for higher ed.. I read it right here in BR almost every day!

  5. Interestingly the company doing the rankings has New Jersey, Vermont, Wyoming and Delaware in the top ten higher education systems nationally. And, if you look at their rankings of community colleges Virginia is not in the top 25 in the nation.
    This ranking focuses on undergraduates and graduation rates which are high in Virginia. And one of the reasons that Virginia schools do well in this is that with the coming of the baby boomers exploding beginning in the late 1950s some Virginia public institutions chose to be more selective and not grow in proportion to the number of growing number of high school graduates.
    Specifically, U. VA and Williams and Mary made a very specific and public choices that dramatically changed their missions. For, example when I was an undergraduates at VPI in the 1950s William and Mary with several branch campuses was the largest institution of higher education in Virginia. At that time what is now VCU, ODU and Christopher Newport University were part of the large and expansive Williams and Mary.
    And, U.VA had George Mason, UJ. VA at Wise and a half dozen other branch colleges. Three of the branch institution – ODU, VCU and GMU now are large research universities enrolling in the neighborhood of 100,000 students each year. In the 1950s WM in Williamsburg was seen as a Virginia version of Wake Forest or Duke.
    Thus with the choice to remain a small more selective institution Virginia does not compare with North Carolina in many economic development criteria today. For example North Carolina universities are awarded more than twice as much federal and corporate research grant dollars than does Virginia institutions. Right now George Mason and Virginia Tech are both focusing on their research potential with significant success. And VCU has great research potential as does ODU. And University research has to be a key element in any economic development strategy for the 21st Century.
    The one person who had the greatest influence on this decision was former and late Governor Colgate Darden. He was president of U. VA in the 1950s and three of his assistants were presidents of Virginia Tech, William and Mary and what is Now James Madison University. Radford was a branch of VPI and Mary Washington was a branch of U. VA.
    So there are many ways to look at higher education and certainly graduation rates of institutions is one but not the dominate one. But Virginia needs to incorporate research in the commonwealth’s long term economic development. If not a lot will change with the coming downsizing of the federal government in the years ahead.

    1. Wade, you are right in that the outcome of any ranking will depend upon the metric selected. Smartasset was examining colleges through the lens of a student or parent thinking about where to send their kid to school.

      Your comments above, while indisputably true, are looking at the higher-ed system through the lens of economic development. My sense is that providing an affordable undergraduate education is pretty much incompatible with building a major research institution. Research institutions soak up vast sums of dollars that could otherwise be dedicated to undergraduates, either emphasizing teaching by tenured faculty rather than by instructors, junior faculty and grad students, or keeping tuition low.

      That is the unavoidable trade-off we must confront. Virginia’s research universities are torn between the two objectives.

  6. Jim, I am not so sure about that for Georgia Tech is a significant public research university with strong and affordable undergraduate programs and so does the University of California, the University of Michigan, Purdue, etc.
    I suspect that some private universities may blend the two but normally funding of public universities has a distinct line between instruction and public service (agriculture extension etc.) and research which is largely funded by the federal government, corporations and foundations.
    This short coming of research in Virginia’s institutions will prove to be a negative in the new economy beginning to unfold now. Virginia has to adjust to long term decline in federal spending as our chief source of economic development. Chemical factories or textile mills in rural Virginia will not be restarted.
    For example, former U. Va. President Frank Hereford had a vision for growing the U. Va. research side but was blocked by politicians several times. Research will be a key factor in economic development in the decades ahead and Virginia does not have a Duke, Wake Forest, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt etc. and we have constrained our institutions interest in developing their research side.
    But I may be rambling again.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      It is always a pleasure for me to read Wade’s (jwgilley’s) comments.

      Reading Wades comments, I never fail to learn much that I had never known before about a subject (higher education) that interests me a great deal.

      This time Wayne’s it was telling about Governor Colgate Darden who was president of U. VA in the 1950s. And also about Frank Hereford, that struck a strong cord.

      Hereford was a research physicist on the Manhattan Project during WW II. Later he became a U. VA professor and then head of its Physics Department and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1962. After that he was appointed provost in 1966 and Vice-President of U.VA in 1970.

      Most telling for me about Hereford was how he resigned his posts of Vice-President and Dean to return to his research at the University in 1971, and how he was appointed President of UVA in 1973 and served until 1985 until he again stepped down to teach for another 7 years at U. VA. simply for the love of it. And for his commitment to education.

      These UVA presidents – Darden and Hereford – were men of great consequence. Each took strong and unpopular but highly moral stands in matters not only during their times as President of UVA but throughout their lives, taking actions whose, breath, scope and consequence extended far beyond the Presidency of U. VA.

      And Wade’s comments struck another deep cord.

      One of my most vivid memories, and greatest influences, from and after my days at U. VA. during the 1960’s was Edgar Shannon, Jr., the University’s President from 1959 to 1974.

      During my four year stay at U. UV it seemed like I saw and passed Edgar Shannon most every day, walking from Carrs Hill down the Lawn to Cabell Hall to teach Victorian English Poets and poetry to U.VA. students.

      At the time I was a half primitive undergraduate, and Edgar Shannon was the President of the University but that is where I imagined Shannon was going, and that fact plus Edgar Shannon’s presence going about that daily task stayed with me for a lifetime. It seemed to me each time that he and I along shared the sidewalk. On his approach he radiated immense dignity, reserve and authority. Yet if we were each walking alone, when coming near and passing one another, his eyes never failed to catch mine and his expressive face then shone with humanity, respect, and yes, humility.

      It was quite unforgettable. Save only for one other man, Sir Robert Menzies, the long time legendary Prime Minister of Australia, and obvious friend of Edgar Shannon, no other individual before and since had made such an instant impression on me at U. Va. or anywhere else for matter.

      But perhaps the strongest legacy of Shannon’s lasting impression on me was the fact that he devoted the prime of life (before, during and after) his many other accomplishments to the deep study of, and writing about, Poets and their Poetry, men like Alfred Lord Tennyson. The simple fact that those dead white male English Poets were good enough for Edgar Shannon Jr. has kept me at the task of trying again and again, reading them, to earn sensibilities worthy of their poems and their lives.

      If only today we had college professors and Presidents as with the character of Edgar Shannon. And Frank Hereford, and Colgate Darden, too.

      I am no alone in feeling this loss. Last summer on a short river cruise, a charity event to support All Faiths Chapel in Tunis Miles Md. I by chance was standing at the rail looking out at the shore passing by when I could now avoid over hearing a conversation between two men telling one another about the last time they saw Edgar Shannon. And how much that single man meant to them. I wanted to join in their conversation, tell my small tale, but their moments were too private, too personnel, too deep, for my interference So I just listened. Both men I learned were recently retired, one as a University President, the other as a university Provost, of highly respected institutions.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        You can find Edgar Shannon’s Obituary here.

  7. Shannon was a great president and I was privileged to work with him on several occasions. I focused on Darden for historical purposes and on Hereford because he had a vision well advanced for his time. He could see the increasing impact research was and would have on economic development in the 21st century. Unfortunately two of Hereford’s ideas were politicized in the Commonwealth.
    But all three were great!

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