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Graduate School Program Rankings for State Universities

written by: John Garger•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 7/14/2010

When choosing a state graduate school, rankings can be a useful tool with which to compare programs. Learn when it is and is not appropriate to use graduate school rankings when choosing a state university.

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    Choosing a graduate school can be a difficult task if you don't know what to look for. Graduate school rankings maintained by various companies and agencies are a great place to start to get an idea of which state Master's degree program is right for you.

    However, before you rely too heavily on rankings of graduate school programs in state universities, arm yourself with the tips found below. You may be surprised by how rankings may not be as accurate for state schools as they are for private universities.

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    What are Graduate School Rankings?

    Any attempt to capture or quantify all of the attributes of an object with one number inherently suffers from several problems. Graduate school rankings are no different. Just the fact they are rankings means you lose some important information about the relative distance between any two schools on the list.

    The point is that rankings are generally a poor criterion alone with which to choose a Master's degree program. Graduate school rankings are nothing more than an attempt to boil down several attributes of graduate schools to easily quantifiable metrics. The question that remains, however, is whether the metrics used to rank the schools are important attributes of school for you.

    For example, some ranking systems use the salaries of previous graduates as a means to rank order graduate schools. If that's an important criterion for you when it comes to choosing a Master's degree program, then that ranking is appropriate for you. If not, look to another ranking system that better matches what you are looking for.

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    Graduate School Ranking and State Universities

    U.S. News and World Report maintains one of the most useful graduate school rankings in the world. Accurate and easy to understand, its rankings are often cited as one of the most useful graduate school ranking systems on the planet. U.S. News and World Report maintains graduate school rankings for business, education, engineering, law, medical, and other graduate school programs throughout the country.

    On that list, however, are both private and public institutions. Not surprisingly, some of the top schools on the list are private universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. However, public universities often make the top of the list as well. Although both private and public universities make the list, there is something a little different about state universities.

    Although students pay money to go to state universities, the state often subsidizes the tuition. In other words, a student may pay $7,000 a year to attend a state university, but it actually costs much more than that because the state picks up the rest of the tab. It isn't uncommon for the state to pick up as much as 40 to 60% of the total cost to send a student to college.

    The reason this is important when it comes to state graduate school rankings is that funding is an important predictor of a school's quality. More funding means more money to create and maintain a quality program. Since the state subsidizes a large portion of a state university's budget, the funding among schools in the same state system tends not to be as disparate as among private institutions that receive no state funding at all.

    For example, the State University of New York (SUNY) has 64 college campuses statewide. Given that funding for these schools is partially provided by the state based on enrollment, how different can an MBA from, say, SUNY Binghamton be from, say, SUNY Albany or SUNY Buffalo? The point is, rankings of graduate schools often place universities on a scale based on subtle differences that don't greatly impact the quality of the program. When selecting a Master's degree program, be aware of the limitations of graduate school rankings and what attributes of a school were used to place the universities on that scale.