Rankings say UT is making strides
By LINDA GIBSON
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- No matter which topic was being discussed -- the budget, faculty, residence halls, curriculum, even cafeteria menus -- University of Tampa president Ronald Vaughn has asked the same question for the past six years:
Will this improve learning in the classroom?
That focus appears to have paid off. In U.S. News & World Report's latest ranking of 573 smaller colleges nationwide, UT appears at No. 33.
The magazine ranked the schools in 16 categories, including reputation, graduation rates, faculty resources, alumni giving and student/faculty ratio.
This year's ranking is a dramatic change from 1995, when UT didn't rank high enough to be listed by number and instead was listed alphabetically among schools lumped together at the bottom.
"What happens in the classroom is at the heart of the educational experience," said Vaughn, who started at UT in 1984 as a professor and chairman of the marketing department in the business college.
When he became the University's president in January 1995, the school began a campaign to improve quality.
In 1994, the freshman class numbered 225. The school could have admitted three times that many, but didn't have the applicants, Vaughn said. The average SAT score of incoming freshman then was 1,000 and their average high school grade point average was 2.85, he said.
This year, UT admitted 915 freshman with an average SAT score of 1,073, and an average grade point average of 3.2, Vaughn said. A lot more people applied than got in.
Those who did get in have an array of new programs and upgraded facilities that have been added in the push for improvement.
The Gateways program for freshmen. Designed to help first-time college students make the most of the university's resources, the one-hour weekly sessions cover topics like time management, test anxiety, campus counseling and tutoring services.
An enhanced honors program that allows students to do research side-by-side with faculty members in every academic area. Last year, 25 UT students presented their findings at regional or national conferences, Vaughn said.
An enhanced technology system. Every building has been wired for fiber optic cable and every residence hall room includes internet access plugs. The university also switched to renting its computers so that every two years it can upgrade to the latest models available.
An International Programs office with a dual mission. It offers advisers for foreign students and arranges exchange programs abroad for all students, such as a semester at Oxford University in England. The campus has students from 85 countries.
The Global Village simulation program, allowing more than 300 students to play the role of a world leader. As the "government" of a particular country, they must promote economic development, enhance the quality of life for their people and pursue world peace.
Naturally, Vaughn is pleased by the latest ranking. But it doesn't signal an end to the push for improvement.
"Rankings don't tell you everything about a university, but it sort of validates what we've known for a long time," he said. "I think you've got to keep growing and developing your entire life. Certainly if you're in education, this is crucial. You've got to stay on the cutting edge."
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