Any unadorned claims that the University of Houston is a Tier One university are a distortion of the truth regarding its true status as an institution of higher learning. Several recent college rankings reflect the degree to which campus leaders have been overstating UH’s prominence.
There seems to be an intentional failure to distinguish UH’s credentials as a research university from its performance in all other aspects of academia. As a result, students are being misled about the quality of education they are receiving, and much focus has been taken away from the many deficiencies that the school desperately needs to address in order to genuinely achieve Tier One status. Failing to face this reality, UH’s attempts at self-promotion will continue to be undercut by the more publicized evaluations of others.
Early this year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching placed UH in the esteemed category of a university with “very high research activity.” This is its highest level and is equated with being a Tier One research institution. While commendable, this recognition is very narrowly focused on just a single facet of a university’s makeup.
When referring to how it determines the status of a school, the Carnegie Foundation’s website states, “that the groups differ solely with respect to level of research activity, not quality or importance.”
In effect, it becomes contingent on money, with universities buying their rank with research grants and expenditures. Acceptance standards, student performance, graduate success and many other important attributes are excluded from this measure, making the label “Tier One research institution” only vaguely informative to future and current students. The assumption is made that a high level of research necessitates a strongly-performing university overall, but it is actually the corollary of that is true. That is to say, a top university must produce superlative research.
To add to this obfuscation, a sort of jingoistic propaganda operation has emerged that slyly omits the “research institution” modifier and deceptively declares that UH is simply “Tier One.” Only reluctantly does UH concede that the Carnegie classification is one of three measures used to fully distinguish an institution as Tier One, with the remaining two serving as better indicators of the University’s educational quality and commitment to student success.
Considering UH’s relatively lax acceptance standards, its less-than-stellar 46 percent six-year graduation rate and its steadily declining teacher evaluations, it is unlikely that the University’s status will improve in the near future.
Formal recognitions aside, the public is more inclined to dismiss any talk of UH being top tier due to its standing in several of the more prominent rankings of US universities and colleges.
Recently, the U.S. News & World Report released their annual list of the best national universities, and UH was distinctly missing. This omission was not due to any oversight. Rather, UH’s rank fell outside of the range that was published. For perspective, UT was 45th, Texas A&M was 58th, UT-Dallas was 143rd and Texas Tech was 160th. Not only was UH far removed from the two officially recognized Tier One universities in Texas, it placed below two of the state schools that are competing for a Tier One ranking of their own.
Such a dismal showing is not an anomaly; Forbes List of America’s Top Colleges listed UH as 543 out of 650 and has the University lagging behind six other Texas schools. Another list from the Washington Monthly places UH at 237, again below Texas A&M, ranked 15th, and UT, ranked 19th.
Obviously, there is a considerable degree of variability between these ranking systems, and it can be argued that many of the determining factors they rely on are largely subjective. However, the fact remains that UH consistently places far below the legitimate Tier One universities in both the state and the nation.
Understandably, UH is not going to advertise itself as a “Second Tier educational university,” but it should not inflate its credentials in order to sell itself. The University claims that it is making great strides towards improving its academic features, but for now it should save the “Tier One” banner until it has fully earned it.
Marc Anderson is a 3rd-year cell biology Ph.D. student and may be reached at [email protected].