The Rankings Commission was charged with the task of determining strategies to improve the national ranking of WPI. It was found that rankings are very important for colleges and universities, in terms of prospective student perceptions and the generosity of alumni. The Commission decided to focus exclusively on the national ranking scheme devised by US News and World Report. In this scheme, WPI is ranked number 53 in the category of national universities, which are those that offer the full range of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. As such, WPI is put into direct competition with some of the nation’s most famous universities, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Duke, etc., all of which have outstanding research and graduate programs.
The Commission felt that a major goal should be having WPI ranked well into the top 50 national universities over the long term. This means that hovering around the lower 50s or upper 40s is not enough. For WPI to consistently remain in the top 50, means that the institution needs to focus on becoming ranked at number 40.
This is an extraordinarily difficult task. A naive approach to rankings suggests that the Commission would have come up with a “to-do” list, including things like advertising, more scholarships, better alumni relations etc, with the hope that improvements in these areas would improve ranking. The Commission has in fact come up with such action items, but these are expected to bring only modest gains in the ranking. The reason is that such items are relatively easy for a group to figure out and are relatively easy to implement. Therefore all our competitors are doing these things as well. A conclusion of the Commission is that modest changes will not lead to significant improvement in the WPI ranking score. Drastic changes are needed.
WPI seeks to improve its ranking score by at least 10 points. The Commission made a survey of schools ranked near 40 and also ranked near 30. In addition, a study was made of schools that had made significant gains, such as an improvement of 10 points. Such schools are very rare, but a noteworthy example is Washington University. The Commission’s conclusion is that for WPI to improve its ranking score by at least 10 points, it needs a major influx of new cash. Therefore, in order to implement the recommendations described below, the Commission determined that WPI should embark upon an ambitious fund raising campaign, much more ambitious than what has been done in the past. A necessary prerequisite for a successful campaign of this sort is for WPI to develop a strong and clear strategic plan.
As a starting point for what will undoubtedly be a very elaborate plan, the Commission provides a synopsis of the many recommendations made in this report, separated here in two categories. The Primary Recommendations are those that the members have deemed essential across a number of levels of the ranking. The Secondary Recommendations, while equally significant, are specific to the individual categories applied by US News and World Report in their calculation of each school’s score.
Summary of Major Recommendations
Greatly improve graduate education and research
WPI has traditionally been an institution with a very strong undergraduate science and engineering program, but a relatively weak research and graduate program. Because WPI must compete in the national universities category, the weakness of its research and graduate programs is a major liability. One of the major recommendations of the Commission is to make drastic and significant improvements to research and graduate education.
Director of Institutional Research
WPI must gather a very large amount of institutional data which is reported to the US News and other ranking organizations. Currently this task is performed by a few dedicated individuals with other major responsibilities. The Commission feels strongly that this task needs to be centralized and performed by a new Director of Institutional Research, with the sole responsibility of gathering, analyzing and reporting institutional data.
Remove WPI from the top student debt list
The US News and World Report (2006) cites a list of the top 15 schools that leave their students with the highest debt load. WPI is ranked number 2! This is extremely poor publicity and the Commission feels that it is important for WPI to not appear in the list of the top 15.
Consider removing the SAT requirement
The Commission further encourages changes in the admission process in order to possibly attract higher caliber graduate as well as undergraduate students. Toward this endeavor, the Commission strongly recommends that the option of removing the SAT requirement be considered.
Summary of Secondary Recommendations
- Gain recognition for WPI’s pioneering contributions to undergraduate education by creating a center or institute, staffed by new faculty well-versed in international issues, that can extend and bring to fruition the research work initiated by student project teams around the world, and by promoting WPI’s leadership in project-based education by, for example, developing and widely distributing a definitive WPI-authored book in the subject and holding an annual high-profile conference marketed to peer schools.
- Develop a targeted marketing program aimed at U.S. News Peer Score voters at schools that have specific connections or similarities to WPI. The program should include outreach by WPI’s president, provost, admissions dean, and faculty members to their peers at these schools, joint programs, conferences and events with these schools, and high-profile events at WPI marketed to these schools.
- As the Peer Score is closely correlated with research funding and recognition, create a new position within the Marketing and Communications Division to communicate about high-quality research and scholarly output of faculty and students to WPI’s peer institutions, the news media, and other strategically important audiences.
- Assist WPI’s president and provost in developing compelling message platforms, rooted in higher education or research expertise, and further grounded in WPI’s core strengths and historical mission, that will bring them to the attention of their peers at other national universities. Seek opportunities for these key administrators to express their viewpoints widely in the national media and develop strategies for assuring that U.S. News voters become aware of the these administrators and their messages.
Graduation Rate and Retention
Guarantee a better Freshman Retention rate by improving the freshman experience through more comprehensive orientation as well as a better advising process. Ensure that faculty advisers are capable and motivated to provide advisees with the right resources. Furthermore, hire professional advisors to keep track of students’ academic progress. Focus on the four-year retention score by providing individualized attention and resources.
Increase sources of revenue by establishing cost centers and assigning usage rates for specialized equipment and facilities. Expand Summer Session youth pipeline opportunities to fill a current void for math, science and engineering pre-college programs. Create a new one-week residential Frontiers Jr. program for 9th and 10th graders, who may later continue on with the current two-week residential Frontier's Program for 11th and 12 graders. Frontiers Jr. would follow the Frontiers model and would offer the potential for increasing summer revenue as there are no scholarships or financial aid to participants. Increase grant proposal submissions to allow the faculty/university to be effectively positioned for receiving new awards when Gateway Park opens, thereby increasing our research expenditures.
Improve alumni giving to a participation rate of 30% by targeting a larger percentage of younger alumni for contributions. Increase the number of permanent staff in the Development office and provide increased travel budgets for that staff. Promote WPI to alumni as aggressively as we promote the university to prospective students. Use more web-based programs to extend outreach to alumni and to afford easy access to giving opportunities.
The administration should consider the senior faculty salary, especially at the full professor level, and attempt to bring these in line with our peer and aspirational institutions. Future growth in programs, students, and faculty should consider the impact on class size and faculty ratios.
Work toward increasing WPI's selectivity rating by increasing the number of applicants, increasing the percentage of the freshmen ranked in the top 10% of their high school class, and increase SAT scores. Adopting an SAT-optional admissions policy would allow for progress on all three fronts.
WPI needs to be much more visible at the doctoral level as well as the undergraduate level. Deans and Department Heads should be actively involved at high-profile conferences and working to aggressively promote our school to those who influence the rankings. Identify our graduate research strengths and focus on becoming a known world leader in those areas. Increase the size of our graduate programs, particularly at the doctoral level as that is where reputations are born. Provide competitive recruiting and financial aid budgets to attract more graduate students of a higher caliber to WPI. Finally, build a critical mass of faculty and graduate students to form research clusters in strength areas.
Summary of Resources Needed
Perhaps the most important aspect of all of the recommendations suggested is having the funds necessary to implement them. A significant change requires a bold approach toward fund raising, which is why the Commission recommends a particularly ambitious campaign. The details of the finances needed are presented below, but it is worth mentioning that obtaining these funds will aid our score in the alumni giving and financial resources categories of the US News and World Report rank. Here we provide an estimate of the recommended spending for the next decade taking into account the more costly recommendations.
- Increase the faculty by 2 new members per department
- The start-up funds for the faculty and salaries for the next 10 years amount to approximately $15,000,000
- Add 20 new Endowed Chair positions
- The endowment necessary for one position is $2,400,000, thus the total amount necessary is approximately $48,000,000
- Increase current salaries of full professors
- A 10% raise for all full professors would cost about $1,200,000, thus the sum for the next 10 years is approximately $12,000,000.
- The total is: $75,000,000.
Undergraduate/Graduate student scholarships
- Undergraduate Endowed scholarships
- If WPI was to add 50 new scholarships covering full tuition, the approximate endowment necessary would be $40,000,000.
- Increase in number and pay for TAs
- If WPI hires 20 more TAs and pays each TA 50% more than what the stipend is right now, the investment would amount to about $5,200,000 per year, thus $52,000,000 for the next decade.
- Graduate Endowed fellowships
- For each new fellowship, the necessary Endowment is about $800,000, thus if WPI obtained 10 new fellowships, the total endowment necessary would be $8,000,000.
- The total is: $100,000,000.
Administrative staff additions
- Director of Institutional Research
- Hiring a DIR for the next decade would cost WPI approximately $1,500,000.
- Professional Advisor(s)
- Hiring 2 professional advisors would cost approximately $2,400,000.
- Admissions and Development Staff
- Creating 2 more positions would cost $2,000,000.
- The total is: $5,900,000
- Events coordinator
- Hiring a professional events coordinator with administrative support would cost $100,000 per year, at a total of $1,000,000 for the decade.
- Promotional materials, publication funds and other expenses would amount to $100,000 per year, $1,000,000 for the decade.
- The expenses associated with using our facilities for 2 conferences per year for the next decade amount to approximately $2,000,000.
- Expenses such as speaker fees would add another $50,000 per year, thus $500,000 per decade.
- The total is: $4,500,000
- This would also add significant additional spending.
The estimated total not including the improvement of our facilities amounts to almost $200 million. This sum is a very general assessment as this Commission’s purpose is to make recommendations only. Furthermore, it is noted that the other Presidential Commissions will likely encourage additional spending. In light of this it is recommended that WPI embark upon a fundraising campaign of 500 million to 1 billion dollars.
Deep gratitude is extended to the following individuals who have been extremely instrumental in obtaining the figures presented above: Jim Kenary, Debbie Graves, Linda Looft, Arlene Lowenstein, John Miller, Richard Rogan, and Judi Trainor.