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SOU will provide U.S. News rankings, for now

Students walk through Southern Oregon University's campus on Wednesday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Amid a spate of high-profile universities putting the brakes on providing U.S. News & World Report with information for its well-known college rankings, Southern Oregon University says conversations about whether to continue the practice are not high on its list.

Joe Mosley, director of community and media relations for the Ashland institution, made those comments after Harvard and Yale — which have long held top spots in college rankings — bowed out of the U.S. News rankings earlier this month. Non-Ivy Leaguers, including University of California-Davis and Georgetown law schools, have followed suit.

“As far as whether or not we’re going to continue submitting information, that’s just a conversation that hasn’t been had yet,” SOU’s Mosley said. “It’s not active.”

But if a discussion about U.S. News rankings ever did come up, “there may be a decision,” he added.

The public statements regarding listing departures that have garnered the most headlines are from the deans of Harvard and Yale law schools, who issued their own statements on U.S. News’ rankings, each citing flaws in one way or another over the publication’s methodology. Eric Gertler, the executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News, responded, “as part of our mission, we must continue to ensure that law schools are held accountable for the education they will provide to these students and that mission does not change with this recent announcement.”

SOU, meanwhile, does not have a law school. University of Oregon in Eugene, Lewis and Clark in Portland and Willamette University provide that education in the state.

While the current spotlight on U.S. News college rankings involves law schools, the publication has long provided them for liberal arts schools, like SOU.

When it comes to the Ashland institution’s stance on college rankings, Mosley said they “have their value in certain areas” though “none of them are 100% scientific.”

“I think any of the ranking systems have their flaws,” he said. “That’s pretty well recognized.”

An online search of the current U.S. News rankings shows SOU is tied at No. 76 as one of the “top performers in social mobility,” No. 64 in “regional universities west” and No. 32 in “top public schools.” The tied schools include Southern Utah University, Eastern Washington University, University of Alaska-Anchorage and Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California.

Joe Jackson, lead analyst for SOU’s office of institutional research, submits information to U.S. News via an electronic survey the publication sends every September. The most recent information pertained to the 2020-21 academic year.

“They gather a variety of different types of information — demographics, student body size, graduation rates, degrees,” he said, referring to the U.S. News survey he receives. “Lots of big-picture information about the organization as a whole.”

However, Jackson, who has only been in his position for just over a year, is somewhat critical of the college rankings.

“To take all of the hard work — and all the great things that our students and faculty do — and distill that down to a number that ranks it against a bunch of other organizations that are new and exciting ... is just kind of reductive,” Jackson said. “It’s not that what they’re doing is illegitimate or that their process is unfair. It’s that, ‘How useful is it to a parent or prospective student to read that number?’”

Beyond the rankings, U.S. News includes an “overview” of SOU on the news publication’s website. Mosley disputes parts of it on a factual basis, saying it likely wasn’t written by his institution. But he also could not say it was written by U.S. News.

The U.S. News “overview” of SOU states correctly the institution has a Western Undergraduate Exchange program in which residents of 14 states are eligible for resident tuition; SOU’s campus is 175 acres; it still has a Shakespeare Studies minor; and, yes, “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell is an alumnus.

But there are some inaccuracies, too. SOU was not founded in 1926 — that was the year after Ashland donated 24 acres for a new campus, the present site of SOU, according to a 150th anniversary history page on the school’s website.

What’s more, SOU does not have 30 majors; it has 40. And while U.S. News claims in-state tuition and fees are $11,142, the amount a resident pays depends on the type of student and number of credits. For in-state undergraduates enrolled in 12 credits, the cost of tuition and mandatory fees is $3,271 per term, which works out to $9,813 if a students takes courses during fall, winter and spring.

Despite the ways in which U.S. News determines its rankings, Jackson said he would like SOU to continue participating in other outlets’ rankings if the listing is targeting a more specific group of students — like graduates.

“A laboratory employer might see a lot of value in gathering information about students in science and information because they want to learn more about their potential applicant pool,” Jackson said. “That feels like it has a more direct use as opposed to a poster board survey with a number on it.”

For any parents or prospective students who are studying up on their college or university choice using publicized rankings, Mosley had some advice.

“There might be some value in the rankings in doing an initial look at various universities, but then be sure to take a deeper dive and look really look into the specific university you’re interested in,” he said. “Contact the admissions department; go to the website. Just find out for yourself; don’t place too much stock in what the rankings say.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.