UCLA is an amazing, ascendant PUBLIC university

posted Oct 21, 2017, 4:39 PM by Tim Fisher   [ updated Nov 14, 2017, 10:35 PM ]
If you've reached this page, then you probably already know that UCLA is a great institution. What you might not know is that, in the most recent set of overall institutional rankings in the US and globally, UCLA has emerged as the #1 public university in the United States: 
Of course, no single ranking can capture all the qualities and characteristics of a single institution, but the fact that these three rankings use quite different criteria and still place UCLA in the #1 spot among US public institutions is significant (note: as I was preparing this entry, US News & World Report released a separate "Best Global Universities" ranking, which places UCLA at #13 in the world and #3 among US publics; and 4 of the top 16 universities overall in this global ranking are from the University of California system!). 

In terms of engineering-specific rankings, UCLA does quite well (#16 in the 2018 US News and World Report graduate rankings for engineering), although its relatively small size is a handicap in rankings -- but certainly not in reality. The main reason for this effect is that many college/school-level ranking systems use total research funding (regardless of program size) as a major criterion. However, this disadvantage in rankings becomes a big advantage in reality because students (and other faculty) are able to develop close relationships at UCLA with virtually all of a department's faculty members. My department (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering) has 34 full-time faculty members; in comparison, the large, highly ranked engineering programs in the US typically have three times this number of faculty in mechanical and aerospace engineering (which many divide into separate departments). I simply don’t see the advantages of monstrous size other than for the purposes of ranking — but I do see many disadvantages.  I have visited all of the best engineering programs and am certain that the quality of faculty on a person-by-person basis at UCLA is good as anywhere in the world -- as a newcomer, I seem to learn something wonderfully new every day about my outstanding faculty colleagues. As a testament to this quality, I recently learned an amazing fact about UCLA engineering (see the paid version of the USNWR link above): the percentage of UCLA engineering faculty members in the US National Academy of Engineering is the 2nd highest in the country (behind only Princeton -- also a school whose small size adversely affects its engineering rankings). 

Finally, you might wonder whether the distinction between public and private universities is relevant. Certainly the distinction is not important to everyone, but it is to me. My sentiments on this topic are well captured in a recent paper about UC-Berkeley and the UC system: "[The faculty’s desire to stay] comes from the sense and satisfaction about being a public university, and certainly an engine of upward mobility. That’s a source of great pride." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Most public universities (with the University of California system as the exemplar) go out of their way to be "engine[s] of upward mobility" for society. At UCLA, this orientation motivates us to seek out excellent students from less privileged backgrounds, for example by intentionally structuring our curricula to welcome transfer students. In contrast, many other universities (both private and some public) make transferring into their engineering programs almost impossible, reasoning that their classes are too unique and specialized even at the beginning of the curriculum. Regardless of your personal opinion on this issue, I hope you'd agree that at least some of our great universities should be the "engine[s] of upward mobility" for such wonderfully talented students -- UCLA certainly is, and I'm proud of it!