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Understanding your university’s reputation is incredibly important, particularly in an age of growing academic diversity. Rankings are complex and may not adequately capture your university’s strengths, but emphasizing and building upon these measures is an important way to help grow your university. Knowing what data supports your own university’s unique strengths is vital.

Every university is different; gone are the days when everyone competed for the same measures of success. Some universities exist to serve their communities both through teaching and research, while others are more exclusive and focused on national or international issues. Some partner extensively with the corporate world, while others don’t.

“The problem is that too many [rankings] are one-size-fits-all,” says John Opperman, president of Texas Tech University. “They’re using measures that may apply very well to some institutions and not very well to others, particularly the difference between private and public universities.”

Choosing Metrics

Selecting metrics for rankings is difficult. Many classic metrics, as Opperman observes, do not account for institutional variation and tend to favor private universities over public ones. Choosing metrics that adequately allow for the diversity of the academic world is an evolving science.

Tracking the SAT scores of incoming students is one such example, as is the volume of research produced by a university. The volume of a university’s research may not take into account academic impact, research mission or other aspects of university performance.

“Historically, the amount of research you do is a measure of your reputation and how well you do,” says Opperman. “Well, certainly you have universities across the country which have chosen not to become a big research university but are nevertheless excellent institutions.”

It’s both important and difficult, therefore, to understand the precise value of the individual metrics used in rankings.

Reputation Building

The relationship between reputation and ranking is complex. On the one hand, recognition of different research missions means that it’s not necessarily beneficial to simply focus on raising a university’s ranking. On the other hand, rankings can help identify weaknesses and strengths, find peer universities and promote achievements to shareholders.

Knowing your reputation, as well as your research strengths and even your weaknesses, is important. Such knowledge can put rankings in perspective and can also help improve performance by enabling universities to capitalize on their strengths. Texas Tech, for instance, is a new Carnegie Tier One university and lies in the top 20 schools nationwide with students who have gone on to lead major corporations.

Understanding this, Texas Tech can promote and enhance its reputation in these areas and use that as a springboard for overall university growth. This, in turn, may help raise its reputation and rankings in other areas, and in other ways.

As the academic world grows more diverse, rankings must evolve to take that diversity into account.

“That’s another one of these kinds of conundrums that higher education has been wrestling with,” says Opperman.