Thoughts on the Academic Impacts of Big Ten Expansion

Previously, I have commented about Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey being invited to the Big Ten Conference. In that post, I made reference to the fact that it is not exclusively an athletic conference. Rather, it is an academic-athletic conference. People may not understand this nuance at first. However, when you evaluate the structure of the Big Ten Conference with their member institutions, it becomes apparent that connections have been made and provide support to each member institution, the faculty, current students, and alumni.

Those who know me know that I jealously guard the academic reputation of Rutgers and the 100+ majors that are available at the University for undergraduates to pursue. I am equally concerned about the quality of the research out faculty conducts and the type of research our graduate students are conducting. Similarly, I appreciate knowing that the grants funding the research are from a mixture of both public and private grantmakers. It is this type of balance that ensures objectivity and provides the type of strain within research that ensures strength in the work being carried out by faculty.

With that in mind, consider the following statement made by a member of the ScarletNation.com recruiting site recently:

Your graduates will earn degrees respected throughout the WORLD because you are in the Big Ten.
No offense to you – but our degrees are already respected throughout the world without the Big Ten.

 

That statement caught me up short. It was the first time I saw in print a concept that perfectly delineates just how significant a Rutgers degree is to people outside the State of New Jersey. It also points up just how strong an institution of higher learning Rutgers is in fact as well as perception.

But there is more to the academic aspects of this invitation than just perception. Let’s take time to consider some of the information and the weights applied to that information within the Big Ten application review process.

Let’s start with one of the biggest pieces of misinformation about the criteria for admission to the Big Ten. There are many people who mistakenly believe that a university only needs to have Association of American Universities (AAU) membership status in order to be admitted. This is completely false. Current membership in the AAU is only ONE of several requirements for consideration of an application to the Big Ten.

Rather, there are specific standings and rankings that are also taken into account as part of the review process. Certainly how well your teams are doing over the long haul and what your history and traditions are for your athletics will be reviewed carefully for the athletic component of admission. But the Big Ten has always prided itself on the strength and quality of the academic programs at its member institutions. Therefore, there is significant review that takes place to confirm just how strong the institution is who is seeking admission.

To that end, the Big Ten will use at least two reports that provide a score based on a wide range of criteria that have been determined to be critical in identifying strengths and weaknesses in the school and its programs of study, its administration, faculty, student body, and alumni. Obviously the Big Ten presidents will use many other research and academic attributes to consider than just AAU membership, or either of the two reports noted below. However, for the purposes of presenting an understanding of why and how Rutgers to the Big Ten is such a solid fit, I am content to look at the following information.

The first is known at the US News and World Report (or USNWR) National Ranking. This is a comprehensive review of the academic capabilities in general of all colleges and universities throughout the nation. The ranking is published once a year. The current year’s ranking can be found here. The second is the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) with the focus being on the ranking of the research capabilities of each school. The most recent rankings for this year can be found here. Both USNWR and ARWU have both utilized hundreds of different types of important academic criteria from different perspectives to put together their rankings.

So where and how does Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey stack up against the Big Ten schools? For that matter, let’s throw in the ACC schools to see if there may be any more poaching done. A total of 28 universities are listed. The score for each school from the USNWR is found in the first numerical column. The ARWU score is found in the second column. Schools that are AAU members have 10 points deduced from their total score as seen in the third column. A final academic rank score is found in the fourth column. The schools are sorted based on the rank in the fourth column with Big Ten schools in ALL CAPS.

 ..........................................ACADEMIC
 .....................USNWR. ARWU.. AAU... RANKING
 NORTHWESTERN........ 012... 022... -10... 024
 Duke................ 008... 028... -10... 026
 MICHIGAN............ 029... 018... -10... 037
 WISCONSIN........... 041... 017... -10... 048
 North Carolina...... 030... 030... -10... 050
 ILLINOIS............ 046... 019... -10... 055
 PENN ST............. 046... 035... -10... 071
 Virginia............ 024... 061... -10... 075
 MARYLAND............ 058... 029... -10... 077
 MINNESOTA........... 068... 021... -10... 079
 Georgia Tech........ 036... 061... -10... 087
 OHIO STATE.......... 056... 041... -10... 087
 Pittsburgh.......... 058... 039... -10... 087
 PURDUE.............. 065... 038... -10... 093
 RUTGERS............. 068... 040... -10... 098
 MICHIGAN ST......... 072... 052... -10... 114
 Notre Dame.......... 017... 098... 000... 115
 INDIANA............. 083... 048... -10... 121
 Miami-Fl............ 044... 077... 000... 121
 IOWA................ 072... 061... -10... 123
 Virginia Tech....... 072... 077... 000... 149
 Wake Forest......... 027... 124... 000... 151
 Boston College...... 031... 144... 000... 175
 NEBRASKA............ 101... 077... 000... 178
 Syracuse............ 058... 124... 000... 182
 North Carolina St... 106... 077... 000... 183
 Clemson............. 068... 124... 000... 192
 Florida St.......... 097... 098... 000... 195

We can clearly see that Rutgers University is currently in the middle of the pack. But there are some very strong institutions on this list which show the value of being part of the Big Ten. This gets to the crux of my argument. The Big Ten is significantly more than “just” an athletic conference. Its members pride themselves on have a strength within the academic sphere to provide their students with a quality education that is complete with a balance between learning through academics and personal growth through team sports and athletics. More importantly, the expectation among the members of the Big Ten is that each institution will have a clear, definitive direction for their academic programs which includes the ability to fund the departments and, equally, the research being conducted within each department. Certainly there is a competition academically regardless of conference affiliation because of the competitive nature of academia. Professors, researchers, want to be the one to discover the newest or latest or greatest concept in their field.

Yet, there is still an expectation that there will also be collaboration among professors and researchers across institutions. Frustratingly, this type of collaboration was almost non-existent within the Big East. Many faculty found that faculty at other institutions within that conference had no drive to develop synergies that would benefit all involved. Frankly, many faculty at other schools were totally focused on themselves and what they were doing. The lack of peer respect among the faculty of the peer institutions in the Big East was mind-blowing. Interestingly, though, when faculty reached out to peers within the Big Ten, there was a willingness to listen to the idea being presented. There was an interest shown, not because the researcher from Rutgers was in the same conference, but because there was a recognition of a personal peer in the field of study who had something to offer and a topic or concept worth discussing.This become beneficial to both sides when you recognize the mutual respect and professionalism.

Similarly, students will find the academic experience among Big Ten schools to be far closer to the experiences at Rutgers University than at Big East schools. This is not to dump on the quality of the education at other Big East schools. Rather, it is to call attention to the fact that there are differences in the way course content is taught and the structure of courses. At Rutgers, it is clearly understood that students must do for themselves to excel in the courses. Many of the schools with the Big East, however, appear to mollycoddle students and give multiple chances when they are undeserved. Frankly, faculty at Rutgers have always approached undergraduate courses in much the same way graduate level courses are approached. You either want to be in the course and learn or you do not. If you do not, you can either withdraw or you will be failed. The choice is yours as a student. Yet, time and again in other schools within the Big East there were numerous stories of students having rules and regulations blatantly broken by faculty and administrators so the student would have “one more chance.” It is flatly the wrong approach.
We can only look forward to a significant rise in Rutgers’ academic profile over the next few years, especially with the reunification of the University to the medical schools and our new standing in the academic-athletic conference that is the Big Ten.

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About VigilantKnight

Living life on my terms.
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