Drive to 25 metrics, SAT scores, and trust in leadership

Q: When you say the Drive to 25, I assume that by 25 you mean the U.S. News and World Report rankings, or are you referring to some other ranking? Also, what are the specific metrics we need to be focusing on to get to the top 25?

Kirk Schulz: I don’t mean the U.S. News and World Report rankings. There is a series of standard metrics out there that are used by other institutions that include research expenditures, graduation rate, annual giving, and other well-established criteria.

I think institutionally we need to choose what those metrics need to be for WSU. Ultimately, the total number of metrics we select can’t be 20 nor can it be three.

There is a Center for Measuring University Performance at Arizona State University (, and all they do is put out a clean data set, so that everybody is reporting information the same way. They’re not a ranking service, but it provides a data set that you can look at online and download.

What we want to do is review that data annually to see where we rank compared to other public research universities, so we can gauge where we are and set a course for how we’re going to move forward.

There is zero interest among members of the senior leadership team about using media rankings like U.S. News and World Report. Interestingly, there was an editorial in the New York Times ( this past Sunday regarding how the U.S. News and World Report rankings don’t matter. They used the University of Maryland Baltimore as an example of a school that has done great things with underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, but is ranked low in U.S. News and World Report because of its mission.

I think the important thing is that we have to choose how we want WSU to be evaluated and how we want to evaluate ourselves. Otherwise, we could end up doing all kinds of weird things to try to get higher rankings in U.S. News and World Report, and people might say ‘I don’t like what the University has turned into because it’s being driven by someone else’s rankings and values.’

Dan Bernardo: The U.S. News and World Report rankings are not something we aspire to, and they are very stagnant. You will not see universities moving up and down those rankings, it just doesn’t happen because of their methodology. For example, the undergraduate rankings focus partially on SAT scores and acceptance rates, which don’t fit WSU.

I’d encourage people to take a look at some of the other rankings where we do incredibly well and that are more mission specific. For example, recent ranking in Money magazine looked at the value of undergraduate degrees from various institutions.

There also are rankings that look at the social mobility index, which considers the ability of low-income students to move into higher income brackets after graduation, and rankings that look at accessibility. And we’re doing well in all of those.

We need to be careful to not be whipsawed by rankings that don’t align with our goals and core priorities.

KS: I did an experiment looking at whether anybody in the history of U.S. News and World Report engineering rankings moved substantially. I went back to the first engineering ranking I could find and then looked annually at those rankings for the next 15 years. In the end, I think I found 2 or 3 schools that moved 5 spots. But overall, there essentially was very little movement among those in the top rankings. What that told me was, you could spend a lot of time and effort and essentially not move much.

Granted, you could probably move from 100 to 75 in those rankings, but to try to move above that level becomes really hard.

Ultimately, my conclusion was, you have to give some attention to it because parents do, but we can’t allow it to drive our behavior.


President and Provost on stage


Q: Regarding our SAT scores. As I look at the Center for Measuring University Performance data, there were only 2 institutions on that list that had lower SAT entering scores than WSU. The SAT scores for our entering students are really abysmal. And that impacts our graduation rate, because if you have a poor incoming pool, you have a harder time getting them through the system. Is there anything we can do to help increase the quality of our students coming in, so we can have a better retention and graduation rate?

DB: That is something we have thought a lot about. As most of you know—and I don’t make any bones about it—enrollment management was moved under the Provost’s Office in 2014. The concern we had was that faculty representatives were not at the table when enrollment decisions were being made. In the past 2 years we have made as much progress as I thought would take us five years.

We don’t use SAT scores as our primary criteria, because it is not nearly as good a predictor of success as high school grade point average.

When we go back and looked at the classes that came in 4 and 5years ago, we can see that we were not retaining those students in the low GPA bands.

As a result of the changes that have been made, the 2016 incoming class looks very different. It has a 0.25 higher average grade point average, which is a large difference. But, it still needs to be higher.

We had a waiting list this year of 500 students who would have been admitted 2 years ago, but were not accessed at all to get to our 4,000 freshmen in Pullman. And, we’re recruiting a higher number of high-achieving students. I believe we have about 65% more high-achieving, honors students.

In addition, we’re going to launch an initiative that will package all of our assets aimed at recruiting high-achieving students.

We can do this.

I was involved in the recruiting of several students this year. One of them, for example, was a young lady who was not intending to come here. She had 7 college-level math courses already completed and was headed somewhere else. But we connected her with the math faculty and she decided to enroll at WSU.

It’s going to require a team effort, because recruiting those top-end students is highly competitive. It’s a much different recruiting environment than 10 years ago. Every university from the East Coast is in Seattle with hired recruiters going after Washington state kids because they know it’s a rich environment for high-achieving students.

And while it is not the primary criteria we use, the SAT scores of students will by nature increase as well.

KS: Please submit those questions and suggestions on the Drive to 25 website ( I truly want some intense dialogue on this and regarding the types of things we need to be measuring. I would argue that recruiting top students for Voiland College is really critical. Most universities that I have worked at tended to get the brightest and best students, and the engineering programs got the tops of those.

My question is, what can we do to make sure that the engineering experience they get here is really exceptional, with research and other types of value-added experiences that they might not get at other Northwest universities?



Q: There seems to be a lack of trust in leadership at WSU and in the numbers we’re being told are real. How do you think the university can rebuild that trust?

KS: Part of the reason I want to use an external group for establishing the metrics and for gathering clean data is that it’s hard to fudge.

If we pick our own internal metrics that we look at each year, then it’s very natural for someone to say, ‘Where did that data come from, and how do we know it’s true?’

If we utilize national norms that have established databases and reporting requirements, it’s much better. That way you or anybody can go online and look at the comparative data and know exactly where WSU stands. I think that builds credibility.

Institutions usually have a higher self-perceived ranking than the data will show. So, using an independent index comes with a little bit of risk, because you might think, ‘Hey, we’re already in the top 25, so why worry about it.’ Then you find out you’re actually number 70. That can be hard.

But, I believe you need to see where you are so you can improve.

As far as the trust issue goes. Trust is something that is earned. I hope that after a year or two you’ll be able to say, ‘I believe what I’m hearing from the administration. They are out there, talking with us, hearing our concerns as faculty, and they are responsive to doing things that we need to do in order to be successful.’