Umbc Tops List Of 'Up And Coming' National Colleges

August 20, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County topped a list of "up-and-coming" national universities in the annual college rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Students and administrators said the ranking confirms what they already knew: that UMBC has set itself apart by encouraging undergraduates to publish research, by recruiting minorities to study science and math and by emphasizing excellent teaching.

"I can't think of a better description for us than 'up-and-coming,' " said Katie Dix, a senior from Baltimore. "There are a lot of great things going on here, but there is also a lot of room to keep going up. This is a kind of payoff for all the work we've put in, a sign that we're making a name for ourselves."

U.S. News also placed UMBC No. 4 on a list of national universities most committed to teaching undergraduates, tied with Stanford and in the same company as Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale and Brown.

"This is an exciting place for major problem-solving in the social sciences, in the engineering sciences," said UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III. "People here are working on the really sticky problems of the day, and undergraduates get a chance to participate in that."

Being at the top of such lists is important, said the jubilant Hrabowski, "because it allows people in Maryland to see how we're viewed nationally."

To determine its "up-and-coming" lists, U.S. News asks university presidents, provosts and admissions officials to nominate schools that are making rapid improvements in academics, faculty, students, campus life, diversity and facilities. UMBC finished No. 5 on the list last year.

Though U.S. News doesn't provide specific reasons for the ranking, UMBC has gained attention in the last decade for opening an on-campus research park, bringing minorities to the sciences with its Meyerhoff Scholarship program and for pairing undergraduates with top scientists such as HIV researcher Michael Summers.

UMBC wasn't the only Maryland school to make the up-and-coming list. Stevenson University ranked second among baccalaureate colleges (schools that focus on undergraduate and pre-professional offerings) in the North region. In addition, Loyola College was ranked fourth in the North region among master's universities, which offer a full array of undergraduate and graduate courses but few, if any, doctoral programs.

In the last decade, Stevenson has almost doubled its full-time enrollment to 2,700, going from a largely commuter school to one with 1,500 students living on campus and expanded its recruiting up and down the East Coast.

"As a school that has been evolving, it does matter to us to be on these lists," said Stevenson President Kevin J. Manning. "I believe that students and parents do look at them. It's a validation for us."

Among other Maryland schools, the Johns Hopkins University moved up one spot to No. 14 in the magazine's ranking of national universities. The University of Maryland, College Park held steady at No. 53 on the same list and ranked No. 18 among public universities.

Harvard and Princeton tied for the top spot in the widely criticized yet widely quoted rankings. Yale finished at No. 3.

Loyola also ranked No. 3 in the North region among master's universities. Towson University finished No. 43 on the same list.

The U.S. Naval Academy ranked No. 19, up three slots, among liberal arts colleges. St. Mary's College of Maryland ranked No. 92 and Goucher College ranked No. 105 on the liberal arts list.

Among historically black colleges, Morgan State University ranked No. 15 and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore finished No. 31.

Though many administrators express ambivalence about the rankings, Hrabowski and UMBC students sounded ecstatic for the recognition.

Scott Gautney, a junior from Thurmont, recalled how professors reached out to encourage his research. The linguistics major will spend this fall in France, studying cultural differences in the ways men talk about sexuality.

"It's really unique that professors would seek out a student, not just as a research assistant but to encourage me to do my own research," Gautney said. "That's actually one of the things that's most impressive when you compare UMBC to other places."

The up-and-coming designation might catch the eyes of high school seniors who would otherwise take UMBC for granted, Dix said.

She would know. As a senior, she applied to larger state schools and treated UMBC as one of her safeties, an afterthought really. "I overlooked it," she said. "It was like, 'Oh, it's just in Catonsville. It can't be that special.' But then I got on campus and I was just so impressed."

Hrabowski loves to promote UMBC's two undergraduate journals, its academically themed residence halls, and the opportunities the university affords to work with elite researchers and to intern for leading employers.

That's not just brochure talk, said Dix, a double major in American studies and political science. When she arrived, she found faculty and students striving to forge an identity for a school that had just celebrated its 40th birthday.

"It struck me as a terribly romantic idea," she said. "Now, I tell people, 'You're going to regret not choosing UMBC when it joins the Ivies some day.' "

U.S. News' top five up-and-coming colleges

1. University of Maryland, Baltimore County

2. George Mason University in Virginia

2. Northeastern University in Massachusetts

4. Drexel University in Pennsylvania

5. Arizona State University

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