Survey: WKU ranked 787th in the nation

Tessa Duvall

In a recent survey of 2,000 American colleges and universities, WKU ranked 787th nationally, and 10th in Kentucky, finishing behind the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and Murray State University.

WKU was ranked 843rd last year, according to the data.

Bill Richards, vice president of business development at Net Industries, LLC, the company that owns, said the data used to rank schools comes from the U.S. Department of Education.

The most important factors in determining ranking are a school’s ACT and SAT scores, its student retention, faculty salary and student-to-faculty ratio, according to the website.

Those factors are rated fairly evenly, with student retention getting the most weight, Richards said.

Admissions Director Scott Gordon said rankings mean more to prospective students and their families than others.

“With a proliferation of ranking sites and publications, there’s no definitive ranking system, so each has its own set of pros and cons,” he said.

President Gary Ransdell, who was unfamiliar with the survey, said the ranking wasn’t cause for immediate concern, but he thinks WKU could do better.

“I’m not pleased to hear that number,” he said.

About 80 percent of WKU’s students come from Kentucky, and many are first-generation college students, Ransdell said.

“We have to look at the impact we are having on those students as a principle driver of what we do,” he said.

Ransdell said he sees ways for WKU to improve its ranking, such as improving retention and graduation rates.

“We have too many students leaving during and after the first year,” he said. “If we accept them, we have a responsibility to do everything that we can to help students persist and graduate.”

Gordon Emslie, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said he doesn’t see cause for concern in WKU’s ranking because it improved by five percentage points.

“I’m very encouraged when I look at the numbers,” he said.

Rankings are useful because they show what WKU is doing right, he said.

Emslie said retention at WKU is increasing, although it is a “slow process.”

WKU also has a low student-to-faculty ratio when compared to many other universities – about 19 to one, he said.

But Emslie said faculty pay needs to be improved, and this is probably where WKU was hardest hit on the survey.

In order to increase pay, a larger state appropriation or greater revenue from tuition would be required, he said.

Emslie said he would like to see the survey include student satisfaction with their degree.

“I think we do extremely well with overall student satisfaction,” he said.

Richards said this survey, unlike the U.S. News and World Report survey, does not use peer surveys. This makes the results more objective, he said.

Richards said he cautions anyone against putting too much emphasis on the rankings.

The survey is intended to give students an additional factor to look at while deciding where to go to school, he said. There are a variety of things, such as campus visits, which help students decide to where to go.